WHILE PEOPLE IN India and Pakistan are breathlessly keeping pace with developments between the two countries, from air strikes to counter strikes to downed planes and captured pilot and his return, serious students of geo-strategic affairs are worried about the drivers of global affairs missing in action even as the sub-continental political bus is rolling down the gorge.
Those who have the power to apply brakes on the war trolley are either simply not there on the job, or their attention is elsewhere. Neither New Delhi nor Islamabad have caught their attention to the degree to which they think they matter in global affairs. The United States' involvement is too thin, and South Asia hasn't got the attention of Donald Trump, his stray remarks about the escalation in the region notwithstanding.
You can paint 'Mera Bharat Mahaan
' on your truck, and the neighbour can play 'Dil Dil Pakistan
' on loudspeakers in the gullies of Lahore till cows come home, but the fact remains that the United States continues to have a huge sway in the Indo-Pak domain and has always played a major role. It's a self-appointed SHO of the area, polices wayward regimes, brokers tiffs, nudges both capitals forward along the path of incremental mutual engagement and remains the monitor, howsoever inefficient, to whom the complainants keep running with grievances.
While Washington has been seemingly doing its bit this time, too, with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announcing that he has spoken with the leaders of India and Pakistan and has urged them to avoid "any action that would escalate and greatly increase risk," the fact is that Washington's involvement has been insufficient.
Radical deshbhakats can thump their chests and claim they are not directed by the United States, or that India is a shaktishali nation with mahaan sanskriti, and we have little to argue with them. Since international affairs and global power games are still not decided by Mera Booth Mazboot conclaves, it is important to see how the United States is manning the forward posts of diplomacy.
Confirming the almost criminal neglect of South Asia, Tim Roemer, the former US Ambassador to India, has now come out and said the situation "can spiral up very, very quickly" because many of the key posts are unmanned.
Shockingly, Pakistan at the moment does not have a United States Ambassador.
Roemer told BBC that while "all the attention of the United States has been on the Southern border of Mexico, here is the border that is a potential global crisis. The Trump administration needs to pay attention (to the India, Pakistan situation)."
With Michael Cohen waiving the cheques signed by Donald Trump personally in the face of the US President and testifying before the Congress about the dirty secrets of Trump's illicit affairs with porn stars and his Russia investment on live international television, this White House is busy in affairs of a nature too sordid.
Trump's talks with N Korea have failed
Trump is just back from a failed summit with North Korea that centred around de-escalating a potential nuclear hotspot, but he simply does not have the cerebral bandwidth to see a border much hotter right now between two countries that never allow their populace to forget that they have got the big one -- the N-bomb.
"If you do not pay enough attention to the volatility of Kashmir by itself, since India and Pakistan were both born out of the fire of Partition, and Kashmir is the inflection point of that, this can spiral up very, very quickly," Roemer said.
When the BBC asked how much bandwidth White House has and is using to switch focus to the India, Pakistan situation, Roemer said, back when he was the Ambassador, he had "all hands on the deck for such a situation" but pointed out that now, Pakistan was without a US Ambassador, and Washington does not even have any Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs.
"This is a situation that worries me," he said.
Roemer said earlier, the US envoys in the two countries "could get the US President personally involved (and could reach out to) the Secretary of State (and) the Defence Secretary, (and could ensure that) the National Security Advisors in both countries coupled up and talked to each other constantly to de-escalate, resolve and show restraint on such issues."
"When you have vacancies and not even an ambassador in a key country, and so many crucial vacancies, that puts you in a very critical position and in a situation like this, it could be a neglect that puts us in a position closer to war," he said.
Former US Ambassador to India, Tim Roemer
Roemer welcomed the return of the Indian pilot as a "good step in the right direction after two weeks of spiral of escalation that put us on the precipice of war" and said, "Hopefully, if the US, China, the UN could show some creativity and bring up a situation of blacklisting of (terrorist) Mohammad Azhar, that might be a creative way of diffusing the situation."
"You have to have all hands on the deck, you have to make sure that all contacts in your government are reaching out to the Pakistani and the Indian governments. You have to have some creative diplomacy," he stressed.
The glaring gaps in diplomacy were revealed by Roemer a day after Pakistan's diplomatic envoy to Washington called on the United States to play a greater role in easing tensions between the India and Pakistan.
"We would certainly like to have more, and would certainly like to see more active involvement of the United States," said Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States Asad Khan.
The de-escalation efforts in the international community are being further hampered by the fact that Washington has depleted a lot of its goodwill capital with Islamabad. Pakistan is no longer on the US list of close allies. The Trump administration has suspended security assistance to Pakistan after blaming it for allowing cross-border militant attacks into Afghanistan.
As of now, the US pointsman in Pakistan is Paul Jones (pic)
, the Chargé d’Affaires at the US Embassy. The US-Pakistan diplomatic engagement has been at a nadir ever since a US envoy, who was involved in a fatal road accident that resulted in the death of a 22-year-old man in April 2018, managed to sneak out of Pakistan with backroom official understanding following a public furore. Earlier, the beleaguered military attaché was not allowed to board a cargo plane sent by the US to pick him up.
In any case, Pakistani public has not forgotten Trump's tweets that Pakistan had "given us nothing but lies & deceit.”
The role of the US diplomacy in India, Pakistan affairs becomes even more important because any efforts by Pakistan's army chief General Jawed Bajwa to reach out to Indian counterparts are stymied by a "system mismatch.”
Experts that Punjab Today spoke to said if only the Trump White House had been working as normal, the latest India, Pakistan spat was a golden opportunity for Washington to get back into the game, dominated by China so far. It has been Beijing for some time which has prodded Pakistan to stabilize its border with India. Clearly, China is pursuing its regional economic ambitions as it is investing some $62 billion in Pakistan, mostly in large infrastructure projects through what is being called the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, part of China’s global Belt and Road initiative.
China will gain better and direct access to important Western markets through C-PEC and if Pakistani troops are freed up along the border with India, they could be diverted to secure the country’s western flank, where China’s trade routes would be.
If the US wishes to remain relevant, it has to do better than making casual, passing remarks about escalation on the India, Pakistan border. For that, it needs to first have people in position, and the White House needs to spend some bandwidth on South Asia.
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