Kashmir: Can Donald Trump solve one of the world’s most intractable conflicts?

Simmering again.
Simmering again.
Image: Reuters/Danish Ismail
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US president-elect Donald Trump claims his deal-making chops are legendary. In 1987, he even wrote Trump: The Art of the Deal, which turned out to be a bestseller, even though his ability to rake in the big bucks has been critically questioned since.

But can those deal-making skills be employed to resolve the seemingly intractable, decades-old Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan?

Trump’s vice-president elect, Mike Pence, thinks so.

On NBC News’ Meet The Press on Dec. 04, Pence was pressed by journalist Chuck Todd on the incoming Trump administration’s stance on Pakistan. Here’s a transcript of the conversation:

Chuck Todd: So let me jump to Pakistan. The Pakistan prime minister on Thursday, here is the headline in the front page of the international news in Karachi, “Trump says ready to play role in resolution of issues.” So let me ask you, is he offering to mediate border disputes? The pri– I guess Pakistan wanted to imply that, that he was offering to mediate border disputes between Pakistan and India. Is that what he was trying to say?

Mike Pence: Well, clearly there’s been great tension between India and Pakistan in recent days. It’s resulted in violence along the Kashmir region. And I think what the president-elect expressed in conversations with leaders on both countries was a desire for continued US engagement on building the relationship with both of those countries. These are two nuclear powers–

Todd: Right.

Pence: –the president-elect recognises that. And making sure that, that they know that when this administration takes office, that we intend to be fully engaged in the region and fully engaged with both nations to advance peace and security.

Todd: To be a mediator in deciding Kashmir?

Pence: Well, I think, I think, I think in president-elect Donald Trump you’ve got someone who, who is prepared to advance America’s interests here at home, to rebuild this economy, to fight for American jobs. But I think you’re also going to see an energetic leadership in the world, prepared to engage and to look for ways that he can bring those extraordinary deal-making skills to bear on lessening tensions and solving problems in the world.

Since 1947, India and Pakistan have been locked in a bloody tussle over Kashmir, with millions of troops amassed on both sides and regular exchange of fire across the border that divides the two nuclear-armed neighbours. Islamabad has also been accused of stoking and financing an insurgency in the Indian-administered parts of Kashmir, even as New Delhi’s administration in the area has been questioned for its brutality.

The United Nations has a presence in the disputed area through the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), which monitors the ceasefire on the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border between the two countries in Kashmir.

And although a legion of leaders of both sides—including incumbent prime ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif—have attempted to push the peace process forward, it has invariably been derailed, for some reason or another. Most prominently, the role of Pakistan’s powerful military and militant groups have repeatedly come under the scanner for nixing talks. From the Indian side, lately, an increasingly raucous band of right-wing nationalists haven’t helped matters either. It’s an almost insoluble mess, but one that India has always insisted is a bilateral issue, despite Pakistan’s repeated attempt to bring the matter to global forums, including the UN.

In any case, it isn’t entirely clear how an offer from Trump to use his “extraordinary deal-making skills” to resolve the Kashmir issue will be received in New Delhi and Islamabad. But if it’s anything like the US president-elect’s apparent conversation with Pakistan’s Sharif, possible negotiations will make for an extraordinary event. Maybe even tremendous.