‘US won‘t play mediating role in Kashmir‘

‘Is Trump going to play a mediating role? Can he play a mediating role? It‘s out of the question.‘
‘Kashmir is an Indian responsibility.‘

IMAGE: United States President Donald J Trump with Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi at the Howdy Modi event in Houston, September 22, 2019. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/Reuters  

Former US ambassador to India (1994 to 1997) Frank G Wisner, was in Mumbai last week to deliver an address to the Asia Society.

“The United States will always be a well-wisher for peace and understanding between India and Pakistan. But wise heads in the United States recognise that you have the capacity to deal directly one with the other,” Ambassador Wisner — now an international affairs advisor at the well-known law firm Squire Patton Boggs — tells ‘s Prasanna D Zore.

Foreign Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in a recent conversation with you in New York said Pakistan is a ‘challenging neighbour‘.
Do you look at Pakistan with a similar lens when it comes to Pakistan funding terror activities in India and encouraging terrorism on Indian soil?

First of all, let me say how pleased I am to be with you this afternoon and to participate in a conversation.

I recall vividly my exchange with the minister of external affairs at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. And yes, the subject of Pakistan did come up.

It is my view — and it has been my government‘s view over the last many years — that Pakistan‘s dalliance with terrorism is an extraordinary danger to this region (the Indian subcontinent), to the US-Pakistan relationship and, most important of all, to Pakistan herself.

And that it is incumbent upon the government of Pakistan to use all its energies to get on top of the problem of terrorism and put it behind Pakistan so that a path can be opened for peace and reasonable neighbourly relations in South Asia.

I‘m not holding my breath that this is going to happen, but I know that it is where Pakistan needs to be.

It‘s where all of us who want a good relationship with Pakistan want to be. It‘s absolutely essential if there is going to be peace between Indian and Pakistan.

Is Pakistan sincerely reigning in terror activities in India?

Well, that‘s a terrific question and the barometer is going up and down over the years. I think there are many Pakistanis who wished this was behind them, after all the greatest victims of terror are not Americans or even Indians. It‘s Pakistan herself.

Look at the terrible blood-letting in Pakistan from acts of terror over decades now. So, one has to start out with the assumption that this (bloodshed) is hardly a popular national sport (in Pakistan).

It is a true, deep running national tragedy and it is incumbent on the elected (government of Pakistan) and military and police and intelligence officers in the Pakistan system to get serious about it (tackling terrorism).

Otherwise, Pakistan will be mired for years to come. And the prospects of taking your (Pakistani) people forward and giving them a proper life, reasonable prosperity degree of peace and security will be for naught.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has been unsuccessful in canvassing support for his country‘s position on Kashmir after Article 370 was abrogated by the Indian government. Except for Malaysia and Turkey not many major Islamic countries have supported Pakistan‘s point of view.
Given this failure, do you think Imran Khan‘s days as prime minister are numbered, knowing well how sensitive the Pakistan army is on the Kashmir issue?

It‘s unlikely that Imran Khan‘s days are numbered. He is engaged in a very strong political offensive on the question of Kashmir.

It plays well to his military side of the equation and to many more radical elements in the Pakistani body politic. And so I can understand the political compulsions involved.

I cannot believe for a moment that Imran Khan or any rational Pakistani believes Pakistan is going to have a say in the future status of Kashmir.

India will decide the status of Kashmir. India will decide and indeed it will be responsible for it.

And there‘s concern in my country (the US) that has been persistently raised, not by my government, but in our press, in our body politic about the treatment of Kashmiris, their human rights, those in detention.

I am pleased to see that telecommunications are beginning to open up, but economic activity and other ways that bring the territory back into some degree of normal life.

I think that‘s what the focus is (on), and not on the question of status (of Kashmir).

Does the US trust Pakistan and Imran Khan as sincere allies in its war against terrorism?

Imran Khan is the prime minister of Pakistan. Let‘s remember that. That‘s the key. There isn‘t anybody else. So your choices are limited when it comes down to picking an interlocutor. He is the prime minister and he speaks for his country. That doesn‘t mean he speaks without troubles.

The military, the intelligence services and political elements in the country also play a very important role. But he is the spokesman and has to be held accountable.

We treat him therefore with respect as prime minister of Pakistan, and we expect him to be able to shape direct government policy and to see Pakistan‘s central national interest, which is to get on top of this ghastly terrorism phenomena.

Is Washington, DC worried about the nuclear rhetoric being persistently used by the Pakistan prime minister?

I think anybody who throws the N-word around is deeply, deeply irresponsible and it would find favour with no one in the United States.

The nuclear age has best be contained and managed, so that we do not lose control of this extraordinarily dangerous civilisation-threatening weapon. This isn‘t something one tosses around in a political science debate.

How much can India trust President Trump, given his unpredictable, mercurial positions, vis-a-vis wanting to play a mediating role in Kashmir and in easing tensions between the two nuclear armed nations?

The United States is not going to play a mediating role in Kashmir, (irrespective of) whatever President Trump says.

The United States is not going to play a mediating role in Kashmir. It has not played one. It isn‘t going to play one. Those days are long past.

The issue of Kashmir as it has presented itself today is an Indian responsibility and it‘s up to India now to take the reality that India has constitutionally decided to pursue and make it into a reality. And that‘s not going to be easy.

I know people talk about a couple of months and things will be all right. I personally think it‘s a hard job and it will only happen if there is a sense of partnership with the people who live in Kashmir, a sense of partnership that they and India‘s authorities are working together for a different future for the territories.

President Trump intermittently keeps issuing such statements that he is willing to play a mediating role in Kashmir.

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Is he going to play a mediating role? Can he play a mediating role? It‘s out of the question. I don‘t even think that an Indian audience ought to regard this as a serious proposition.

Would you want the next president of the United States to play a major role in bringing the two nuclear adversaries to the negotiating table?

The United States will always be a well-wisher for peace and understanding between India and Pakistan. But wise heads in the United States recognise that you have the capacity to deal directly one with the other.

You have in the past, on multiple occasions, the leadership of Pakistan, the leadership of India have met, reached temporary or longer standing agreements. You‘re capable of doing that again. You don‘t need outside hands to try to shape an outcome.

Recently, the US halted talks with Taliban in Afghanistan.

The meeting was called off when an act of terror was committed right at the moment when the parties were supposed to be reaching peace with the United States in organising the departure of American forces and they (the Taliban) then proceed to kill (a US soldier).

So under what circumstances would any person be able to sit down and make an agreement if, on the eve of the agreement, you are killing your opposite numbers?

What I do take seriously is there is a disagreement as to whether the United States should negotiate a departure from Afghanistan on its own or whether it is obliged to do that hand in hand with the government of Afghanistan which represents the country‘s constitutional order.

My own preference — and I‘m not speaking for my government, I am long out of government — is that the United States government and the government of Afghanistan would together be engaged in trying to find terms that work with the Taliban.

I think that is a safer, a long-term bet to have an understanding with the government (of Afghanistan) and the Taliban, and then it (the peace process) will have greater chances of survival.

Can there be peace in Afghanistan without the Taliban participating in the peace process?

No, the Taliban must be part of a political and military settlement. There is no question about that.

But to have it appear to be between the Taliban and the United States is profoundly, in my judgment, dangerous. The government of Afghanistan, the constitutional authority of Afghanistan needs to be a key negotiating party.

Taliban spokesperson Mohammad Suhail Shaheen told the News18 television channel that the Taliban would seek India‘s help in reconstructing Afghanistan.
This is the first time the Taliban has accepted a role for India to participate in Afghanistan‘s reconstruction. What could have brought about such a dramatic change?

I hope it represents a real U-turn.

Afghanistan is a much fought over country and trying to rebuild what has been destroyed, much less address the problems of the future, is a huge challenge.

The whole world together isn‘t going to be able to deal with the demands of Pakistan, of Afghanistan, (so it‘s) just not possible.

It‘s a recognition of reality that the Taliban, or any other party in Afghanistan, should want to bring outsiders, as broad a number and sort as possibly can, and help the country. It can‘t do it on its own.

But here, let me be very clear. I believe there must be an arrangement between the legitimate government, the constitutional authority of Afghanistan and the Taliban, and it‘s in that context that outsiders can then associate themselves, India included.

India, I would be astonished, is prepared to make deals with the Taliban without taking into account the constitutional authority of Afghanistan.

Is this changed stance indicative of the Taliban ditching Pakistan?

Pakistan has influence over the Taliban and if that influence is used in the cause of making peace, then so much the better.

But I don‘t think that Pakistan will decide the future of Afghanistan. It must be done between the Afghans and needs to be done recognising that the government of Afghanistan is the legitimate authority.

The Taliban and it (the Afghanistan government) have to work out political arrangements that will give the country a better crack at peace.

What leverage do you think India could hold over Afghanistan if US troops leave Afghanistan?

India has some, but not overwhelming leverage. India can play a role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan under the right political circumstances.

If there is an agreement between the government (of Afghanistan) and the Taliban, then India has huge capacities to be of assistance in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

I just want to be clear that I believe it cannot happen.

India cannot play a role except if there is a political constitutional authority (in Afghanistan), which can include an understanding with the Taliban. That‘s the central point.

India‘s secondary role is helping form an international coalition of neighbouring States which can help buttress a peace understanding inside of Afghanistan. India‘s diplomacy can be effective in that regard.

So I think India has got good cards to play.

The trade spat between the US and China is leading to talk about manufacturing companies moving out of China. Can India take advantage of this?

In theory, yes but in practice, I am a bit sceptical, certainly not in the immediate future.

India has taken a bold step with this new tax regime. But India has many other constraints on foreign investment.

At the moment, if there are companies looking for alternative platforms to China, the majority of the business is going to the Vietnam and the Thailands and not to India.

And that puts before India the question why of what further needs to be done to create infrastructure, to create a predictable regulatory environment, to create the kind of tax incentives and financial advantages that other countries offer, to have a more open trading regime.

India will be looking at an opportunity, but like all opportunities, you‘ve got to work hard to make them come real.

How could India attract foreign investment moving out of China?

India has got good brand recognition, a good place in the market, and a great deal going forward.

But I think if I were to wish a perfect trade platform and make India fully competitive with the Southeast Asian countries to India, I think (I would look out for) a solid tax and regulatory regime, infrastructure development.

You have rule of law, but accelerated resolution of commercial disputes (will be desirable), facilitated registration of new investors, and a very careful regard to minority rights of shareholders who don‘t have majority positions.

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Watch Ambassador Frank G Wisner in conversation with
Videos: Hitesh Harisinghani/

‘Pakistan will be mired for years to come‘

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‘India will decide the status of Kashmir‘

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‘US is not going to play a mediating role in Kashmir‘

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‘I hope the Taliban wanting India to reconstruct Afghanistan represents a real U-turn‘

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Is the Taliban ditching Pakistan for India?

 

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