Analyzing American Approach to Kargil Conflict

17 Jul, 1999    ·   227

Dr. Chintamani Mahapatra points out that the Post-Kargil era is likely to restore US activism to achieve a subcontinental nuclear restraint regime in some form

Washington 's stand on the current Pakistani offensive in Kargil is distinct from its traditional approach towards the half-a-century old Kashmir problem.



This is not the first time that Pakistan has committed blatant aggression in Kashmir by dispatching groups of trained "intruders" and subsequently using its military forces. These were the Pakistani tactics in 1947-48 and 1965. What was the US approach then?



On both these accessions it sought to project an image of neutrality by imposing arms and embargo on both parties. However, during the first Indo-Pak conflict, the US representative in the United Nations clarified the US position by opposing the resolutions that would have branded Pakistanis the aggressor. The then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was greatly enraged. During "Operation Gibraltar" in 1965, the United States again sought to equate the aggressor with the victim by imposing an arms embargo against both India and Pakistan .



Unlike in the past, the Clinton administration has not refrained from calling a spade a spade and asking Pakistan to withdraw its forces from Kargil Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth was quick to state that the "intruders" must go back before peace can prevail in Kashmir . Secretary of State Madeliene Albright reportedly told Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaz Aziz over the phone to pull back the intruders from Kargil. President Bill Clinton, both through his letters and telephonic conversations with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has asked him to pull back his troops from across the Line of Control.



While urging India and Pakistan to respect the Line of Control, refrain from escalating the situation and resume the dialogue process, Washington has simultaneously and resume the dialogue process, Washington has simultaneously  advised Islamabad to pull back its forces from the Indian side of the LoC. The White House also maintains that the Shimla Agreement is the best way to resolve the Kashmir dispute. Significantly, several American legislators, South Asia specialists and defense analysts have branded Pakistan as the trouble maker and have appreciated India 's military action against the "intruders."



Ironically, the US had imposed military sanctions against India and Pakistan during the Kashmir conflict of 1947-48 and 1965. But this time the US Senate voted to lift the already imposed sanctions for five years in the midst of the Kargil clash between Indian forces and Pakistan-backed intruders. Some analysts feel that the US has decided to reward Pakistan at the wrong time, and that the Senate's move could provide further encouragement to the intruders.



Nothing is farther from the truth. The US Senate vote does not reflect an opinion poll on the Kargil conflict. Secondly, the lifting of sanctions is not automatic. While India should appreciate the US stand on the Kargil question, it is important to understand its rationale. President Clinton is not taking sides on the Kargil issue by asking Nawaz Sharif to pull back. Washington would like to remain neutral on  the Kargil issue and let India and Pakistan resolve at bilaterally. In the past, the US political stand on the Kashmir issue was affected by Cold war considerations and the closer ties between Washington and Islamabad . The current US thinking on the issue is bereft of those factors. This does not mean that the United States has decided to move closer towards India and farther from Pakistan .



South Asia , has witnessed four rounds of war in the post-World War II period, and remained a low priority area for the US during the Cold War. The nuclearisation of South Asia has altered the strategic priority lists of the US . US analysts have often raised the possibility of a nuclear holocaust in South Asia arising out of the flashpoint in Kashmir .



But interestingly the US Government does not see the possibility of any nuclear war arising out of the current conflict in Kargil. The US has not even contemplated sending a special emissary like Deputy National Security Advisor Robert Gates in 1990, to the subcontinent. Still the Post-Kargil era is likely to restore US activism to achieve a subcontinental nuclear restraint regime in some form.