“With respect to Kashmir, obviously this is a longstanding dispute between India and Pakistan. As I said yesterday, I believe that both Pakistan and India have an interest in reducing tensions between the two countries. The United States cannot impose a solution to these problems, but I’ve indicated to Prime Minister Singh that we are happy to play any role that the parties think is appropriate in reducing these tensions. That’s in the interests of the region, it’s in the interests of the two countries involved, and it’s in the interests of the United States of America.”
—President Barack Obama
The above quote is crucial in comprehending the current position the United States holds regarding the conflictual situation in Kashmir.
The region of Kashmir has been in dispute since the independent countries of India and Pakistan were created in 1947. The region has been the source of much tension and conflict over the years, causing the relation between India and Pakistan to deteriorate on many occasions. However, the position of the United States on this issue is hardly known by its citizens, nor is it widely publicized and discussed as are the tense situations between Israel and its neighbors. Furthermore, the United States has not really taken a definitive stance in the matter in spite of the existence of groups in the region which can rightfully be classified as terrorist groups.
The issue of Kashmir is not important for the United States for the region itself but rather due to the fact that it involves two nations which have a strategic interest to the United States. Before the Cold War, the United States viewed Pakistan as a significant Cold War ally. At this point in history, India was not considered a strategic partner to the United States due to its friendly relations with the Soviet Union. However, after the Cold War, this situation began to change following the fall of the Soviet Union and with the increasing prominence and power of China. In order to reinforce its position with China, the United States sought to establish closer ties with India.
This historical backdrop is significant in understanding whether the US’s Cold War era perceptions about Kashmir continue to this day to influence its stance on the region. If such is the case, there is the danger of missing realities which have arisen with the passage of time and basing previous issues as the foundation for current decisions and actions. However, the Cold War perceptions of the Kashmir issue do not seem to be the basis of the United States’ position on the issue today.
In the present day, the United States-India-Pakistan relationship is, to say the least, a complex one. The United States needs the assistance of Pakistan in its global anti-terrorism policy and simultaneously needs to maintain amicable relations with India in order to counter the balance of China’s increasing influence in the region. Thus, The United States’ position with reference to Kashmir is essentially one of neutrality based on maintaining cordial relations with India without foregoing a relationship with Pakistan.
In 2010, when President Obama clearly stated that the United States cannot impose any solutions to the Kashmir issue, he rather encouraged India and Pakistan to reduce tensions by themselves for the interest of the two countries, the region and that of the United States. He stated that the United States in turn would assist in any way in reducing these tensions. This statement may indicate a show of support for India as that nation has always held the position that no outside forces be involved in the settlement of the Kashmir dispute, despite requests from Pakistan for an American involvement in negotiations. Since both countries are of strategic value to the United States, its position on the Kashmir issue is essentially one of a “hands-off policy” and it is clearly exercising a strategic balancing act in order to not offend either side.
This position was further reiterated recently by State Department spokesperson Marie Harf who stated that India and Pakistan need to improve their bilateral relations and that the two countries need to establish better relations and work together on the Kashmir issue, further stating that the United States remains concerned about the issues of peace and stability in the region (without getting directly involved). The United States has therefore ruled out any mediation on the Kashmir dispute.
It can clearly be seen that the United States has time and again held a neutral and balanced position on the Kashmir issue, maintaining that India and Pakistan are ultimately responsible for ceasing their tensions. This will most likely continue to be the United States’ position on Kashmir, unless of course the situation between India and Pakistan deteriorates to a point which will cause significant damage to the United States’ strategic interests or if the region attracts a large number of multi-national terrorists which pose a direct threat to the United States.