Solution for Kashmir Conflict Unlikely, Ambassadors Say

Ambassador Howard Schaffer (left) with Jack Garrity and Ambassador Teresita Schaffer at the Woman's National Democratic Club on Oct. 14, 2009. (Terrence Smith / Asia Society)

WASHINGTON, October 14, 2009 – India wants to become an equal partner in its developing relationship with the United States. Yet, as the world’s largest democracy becomes a closer ally of the US, it is unlikely that even American involvement will help solve the long-standing conflict with Pakistan over the disputed region of Kashmir.

That is what Ambassadors Howard Schaffer and Teresita Schaffer, experts on South Asia who have served as US diplomats in the region, said in a conversation hosted by Asia Society on US-India relations.The Schaffers, who are married, have just published two books on the region: Teresita’s India and the United States in the 21st Century: Reinventing Partnership and Howard’s The Limits of Influence: America's Role in Kashmir. They spoke in a discussion at the Woman's National Democratic Club, moderated by Jack Garrity, Executive Director of Asia Society’s Washington center.

The US has now become India’s biggest strategic partner, said Ambassador Teresita Schaffer, not least thanks to a growing, increasingly prosperous Indian-American population. According to estimates, that population now numbers 2.7 million.Schaffer, the former US ambassador to Sri Lanka, explained how the end of the Cold War brought the end of the Soviet-Indian alliance, and India’s fast economic growth beginning in the 1990s brought it closer to the United States.

According to Ambassador Schaffer, India is not interested in being a junior partner in the future, and any development in the relationship with the US will have to be on equal grounds.

Her husband, Ambassador Howard Schaffer, focused on the history of US involvement in the dispute between India and Pakistan regarding the Kashmir region. The Kashmir conflict is more than a territorial dispute, he said: it is fundamentally an issue of national identity. For India, losing the Muslim-majority Kashmir would jeopardize its identity as a secular nation. For the Pakistanis, however, that Muslim majority is the reason that Kashmir is seen as belonging to the Islamic nation of Pakistan.

Schaffer, who served as US ambassador to Bangladesh, divided America’s role in Kashmir into three phases. From the partition of India and Pakistan following independence from Great Britain in 1947, and the first war between the two nations, the issue was deemed so important that US presidents including Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy were involved personally.

After the 1971 war between India and Pakistan, the two nations claimed they would resolve their disputes, including Kashmir, through bilateral talks that pushed the US to the sidelines. The Kashmir conflict, however, was not resolved. In the third phase, US diplomatic involvement returned in the 1990s following a wave of attacks in the Indian-held portions of Kashmir, which India blamed on Pakistan.

The 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, carried out by a radical Islamic group based in Pakistan, worsened the situation to the point that, according to Ambassador Schaffer, any solution to the conflict in the foreseeable future is now “unlikely.” But the United States should continue to pursue a peaceful outcome, Schaffer added. American involvement may continue in the form, said the ambassador, of “quiet diplomacy.”

Reported by Terrence Smith, Asia Society Washington Center