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India-US Dispute: A Storm in a Teacup?

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Trans-Pacific View | Diplomacy | South Asia

India-US Dispute: A Storm in a Teacup?

A U.S. diplomat’s visits to Pakistan-administered Kashmir have created tensions between Delhi and Washington, but the diplomatic dispute is unlikely to result in a breakdown in their strategic relationship.    

India-US Dispute: A Storm in a Teacup?
Credit: Depositphotos

In recent days, India has found itself embroiled in a diplomatic dispute with the United States, centered around a visit last month to Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan-administered Kashmir (PAK) by the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Donald Blome. In October last year, Blome had also raised concerns in New Delhi when he visited the part of the disputed region controlled by Pakistan. 

The situation is delicate, with the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan defending Blome’s visits to PAK as efforts to strengthen climate resilience in the region. This diplomatic tension raises questions about the state of India-U.S. relations, and whether India is on the verge of losing another important plot in its international alliances, akin to the recent strain with Canada over the killing of a Sikh separatist leader in British Columbia.

The heart of the issue lies in India’s firm stance on Jammu and Kashmir, which it controls, and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, which India considers as an integral part of its sovereign territory. These territorial claims have been a long-standing bone of contention between India and Pakistan, which also claims sovereignty over the territories. The visits by Blome to PAK have added a new layer of complexity to the dispute.

India’s response to these visits has been robust, with its Ministry of External Affairs’ spokesperson urging the international community, particularly the United States, to respect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. This call was aimed at protecting India’s interests and at asserting its stance on the Kashmir issue. India’s position is consistent with its well-known policy that Kashmir is a bilateral matter to be resolved between India and Pakistan without any third-party involvement.

The U.S. Embassy’s defense of the visits is rooted in a different narrative. The rationale is that Blome primarily intended to explore opportunities for strengthening climate resilience in the region. While this motivation is seemingly neutral and unrelated to the Kashmir dispute, the explanation did not dispel Indian suspicions about the true nature of the U.S. diplomats’ engagements. This is particularly significant given that the United States had previously referred to Pakistan-administered Kashmir as “Azad Kashmir,” a term used in Pakistan but not recognized by India.

To understand the gravity of the situation, it is essential to examine the broader context of India-U.S. relations and how this dispute fits into the larger framework of their strategic partnership. 

India and the United States have made significant strides in their bilateral relationship in recent years, with cooperation on various fronts, including defense, trade, and counterterrorism. The two nations have shared strategic interests, particularly in the need to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

However, this current diplomatic dispute has raised concerns about the durability of the India-U.S. partnership. The relationship is not immune to occasional disagreements, as evident in the past, but the key to a successful partnership lies in how these differences are managed and resolved. In the case of the U.S. ambassador’s visits to PAK, both sides must exercise restraint and diplomacy to prevent the issue from escalating further.

It is essential to recognize that India’s response to the dispute is not necessarily indicative of a shift away from its alliance with the United States. India’s foreign policy approach is pragmatic, and it seeks to protect its national interests while maintaining a balanced stance in its international relationships. Therefore, while India has expressed concerns over the U.S. diplomat’s visits, it is unlikely to lead to a complete rupture in the relationship.

The comparison between this dispute and the tensions between India and Canada that arose three years ago over the latter’s support of Indian farmers protesting against the introduction of three new agriculture bills is somewhat misplaced. The India-Canada dispute then was characterized by public disagreements and strong rhetoric. In contrast, the current India-U.S. dispute is more nuanced and centers around the complex issue of Kashmir, a long-standing flashpoint in South Asian geopolitics. It is necessary to avoid drawing parallels between the two situations.

The United States, as a global power, prioritizes stability in South Asia because of the region’s strategic importance in the Indo-Pacific. The U.S. has tried to maintain a balance in its relations with India and Pakistan, mediating in conflicts such as the 1999 Kargil War and engaging both countries in counterterrorism efforts. As in the past, Washington is likely to continue its role as a regional stabilizer, advocating peaceful resolutions to conflicts like the Kashmir dispute while facilitating diplomatic dialogue between India and Pakistan. This policy is aimed at preventing disruptions in the broader Indo-Pacific region.

It is a challenging task for the U.S. to navigate the intricate and sensitive issue of Kashmir, given its own strategic interests in the region and its desire to maintain cordial relations with both countries. A volatile situation in Kashmir could have ripple effects that extend beyond the subcontinent. The United States may therefore be inclined to play a role behind-the-scenes in facilitating dialogue between India and Pakistan, even if it does not go beyond appearing neutral in public.

The diplomatic dispute between India and the United States over Blome’s visits to Pakistan-administered Kashmir is a complex issue. While it has raised concerns and questions about the state of India-U.S. relations, it is unlikely to lead to a breakdown of their strategic partnership. Both countries have too much at stake not to keep the relationship strong and stable.

To navigate the choppy waters effectively, India and the United States should engage in constructive dialogue, expressing their respective concerns openly and seeking common ground. It is also necessary to recognize that the Kashmir issue is deeply rooted in historical and geopolitical complexities. 

While the current dispute poses a diplomatic challenge, it should not overshadow the broader positive trajectory of India-U.S. relations. It behooves both countries to strengthen their partnership by addressing the issue collaboratively and reaffirming their commitment to regional stability and global security.

The India-U.S. relationship, like any other partnership, will face occasional challenges. The key to an enduring relationship lies in how differences are managed and resolved. Both nations must remain committed to their shared strategic interests.