On 13 May 2006,an 84-year-old US Army veteran died in a small town in the United States. Besides doing his bit in Vietnam and Korea, Russell King Haight Jr had been at the helm of a very unusual mission: leading a ragtag group of tribesmen sent by the Pakistani army to take over Kashmir. Even though it was a personal mission, this was just the beginning of America’s interest in Kashmir.
Washington’s efforts regarding Kashmir, beginning from the 1940s till date, are the subject of veteran diplomat Howard B Schaffer’s book. Schaffer says his interest in Kashmir was kindled as a junior officer in the US embassy in New Delhi, from where he was sent by the ambassador to find out what was happening. Schaffer’s book has been well received for one reason in particular. Although dozens of books have been
written on the US role in India-Pakistan relations—where Kashmir invariably figures—Schaffer’s book, as he said in a recent interview, “is an interpretation of America’s role in Kashmir from the beginning”.
India has always been quite wary of ‘outside intervention’ (read American meddling) and Schaffer makes a note of it in his book. And he suggests that American intervention in Kashmir would serve more of India’s cause than of Pakistan’s. Schaffer offers useful insights and is optimistic of a breakthrough. He believes that a solution to the Kashmir problem lies in India and Pakistan being realistic. Schaffer also has wisdom to offer to the Obama Administration. He believes it should be on the lookout for opportunities to ‘intervene’, and whatever role it wants to play has to be kept low key. Schaffer himself is quite realistic about Kashmir, as he points out in the same interview that turning the Line of Control into an international boundary is the ‘only option’. For, the prospect of independent Kashmir would be ‘unworkable, unthinkable’.
‘A Kashmir settlement has become even more important to American interests in South Asia and beyond,’ writes Schaffer. He also advocates that the US should back India’s bid for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council as a carrot to push for a resolution to the Kashmir issue.
With US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on a visit to Pakistan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s peace overtures couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. He has said dismantling the terror infrastructure across the border is not a precondition for initiating talks with Pakistan but a “practical way of looking at things”. This echoes the pragmatism Schaffer advocates in his book for a solution to the Kashmir conflict. Whether Pakistan takes a similar approach is a different matter altogether.