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India's Clampdown on Kashmir Threatens Afghanistan Peace Negotiations

Pakistani officials warn Indian military action on the border may derail Taliban–U.S. negotiations in Doha, Qatar.
Security personnel stand guard on a street in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5th, 2019.

Security personnel stand guard on a street in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5th, 2019.

In August, India's parliament voted to revoke article 370, a provision of the country's constitution that granted the state of Jammu and Kashmir special status as an autonomous territory, with its own flag, constitution, and domestic laws, including those dictating land purchases. Within hours of the decision, electricity and Internet in Kashmir was shut down, cutting off Kashmiris from the world. India has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers to the area in anticipation of armed resistance.

Some, including the prime minister of Pakistan, have warned that this move may destabilize the region. Since the formation of India and Pakistan in 1947, the countries have fought three separate conflicts over Kashmir, which is currently divided with each country controlling a portion of the territory. Pakistan and India have long argued—sometimes resulting in open conflict—over which country can claim the Muslim majority territory. While the Kashmir situation does not directly involve Afghanistan and the United States, Pakistani government officials raised alarms that the ongoing situation may derail the Afghan peace talks in Doha, Qatar, between the U.S. and the Taliban.

During a meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in July, President Donald Trump claimed the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, asked him to mediate the delicate situation in Kashmir, although the Indian government quickly rebutted the claim. India has maintained that the dispute over Kashmir is a bilateral dispute between India and Pakistan, resisting international interference. On August 2nd, the India external affairs minister reiterated by tweet that "any discussion on Kashmir, if at all warranted, will only be with Pakistan and only bilaterally."

Days after the meeting, Special Representative Zalmay Khalilizad, who leads the U.S. negotiation team in Doha, Qatar, spent two days in Islamabad, discussing Pakistan's role in an upcoming deal between the U.S. and the Taliban. According to the Pakistani newspaper the Express Times, Pakistani officials also discussed the situation in Kashmir, and allegedly suggested that any aggression by India in Kashmir would cause serious problems for the Afghan peace process.

Within hours of this week's blackout in Kashmir, Khalilizad tweeted that he would be flying to Delhi for "pre-scheduled meetings" to build consensus on what many believe is an imminent agreement between America and the Taliban. Sources in Qatar and Kabul allege that there was no pre-arranged meeting scheduled, suggesting the trip to India could be a last-minute attempt to ensure that the situation in Kashmir does not derail what both the U.S. and the Taliban are calling the final round of negotiations. In contrast, a source at the Pakistani Embassy in Afghanistan says that the trip was preplanned.

Pakistan's support for any negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban is considered a necessity. Since negotiations between the U.S. government and the Taliban began last year, Pakistan has played a vital role in bringing the Taliban to the table in Doha. The country freed important Taliban leaders from prison and allowed them to travel internationally to Qatar for the negotiations. While the Pakistani government claims to be officially against all terrorist organizations, including the Taliban, Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, has been documented extensively as having a close and mysterious relationship with the Taliban.

Some observers have suggested that the Indian government, in revoking article 370, saw an opportunity to undermine Pakistan's growing closeness with the U.S. Barkha Dutt, a well-known Indian journalist and political commentator, suggested in a Washington Post opinions piece that India may be aiming to derail the negotiations in Doha, which will elevate Pakistan's regional influence in Afghanistan if the Taliban are brought back to power and U.S. troops leave the country.

"What Modi has done will antagonize the Pakistan Army," which is a key plank in America's negotiations with the Taliban, says James Schwemlein, who served as senior adviser to the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2011 to 2017. Schwemlein says that domestic political factors likely drove the Indian government's actions, but that the sudden decision is sure to have regional repercussions no matter intent. Progress in the U.S.–Taliban negotiations over a peace framework will be affected "only if Pakistan wants it to be," he says.

Yesterday, Ayesha Tanzeem, Voice of America Pashto's bureau chief, reported that the Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan told a journalist that a deal between the Taliban and the U.S. would be reached on August 13th, before walking the statement back. Signs indicate the development in Kashmir may have already entered into discussions. Shortly after the Indian parliament's vote, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi tweeted his condemnation and stated, "we intend to firmly highlight our stance in our meetings with the US delegation visiting Pakistan and with the International Community at large."

At a press conference at the Pakistani Embassy on Thursday, August 8th, Ambassador Zahid Nasrullah Khan stated that the situation in Kashmir is "not linked" to the Afghan peace process, and noted that Pakistan and the international community are focused on the Afghan peace process despite the situation in Kashmir.