The dispute between India and Pakistan over the territory of Jammu and Kashmir has gone on for many years. With a government in India that is more open to close relations with the United States, as well as continuing problems with the United States-Pakistan relationship, now is an excellent opportunity for recognition of Indian claims over Jammu and Kashmir by the United States, which has the potential to help strengthen the United States-India relationship.
The history of the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir dates back to the partition of India in 1947. Initially, the Maharaja of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir had considered declaring independence. That option was scrapped after attacks by Pakistani raiders and the Maharaja was granted armed assistance from the Indian government. The Maharaja decided that Jammu and Kashmir should be part of India and ceded authority over defense, communications, and foreign affairs to the Indian government.
The war between India and Pakistan ended on January 1, 1949, when the United Nations arranged a ceasefire. An armistice line formed where the fighting had stopped and that line has largely marked the zone of control since. In addition to the general dispute, there have been several hot conflicts in the region since the ceasefire was signed in 1949. This includes the Kargil War, which resulted from Pakistan's view that it could probe and eventually dominate India through small scale operations under a nuclear umbrella.
Historically, there have been issues with the relationship between the United States and India. During the Cold War, India had close ties with the Soviet Union. President Richard Nixon’s support for Pakistan during their conflict with India in 1971 harmed relations with India. While President Ronald Reagan sought to mend relations with India in the 1980s, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had hostile views towards the United States and these efforts did not lead to many results.
After the Cold War, there were attempts to strengthen ties between the United States and India during the administration of President Bill Clinton. These attempts had several setbacks. One setback was the Clinton administration's policy of nuclear nonproliferation, which sought to eliminate nuclear weapons globally, including in India. Another setback occurred when Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robin Raphel questioned the legitimacy of Jammu and Kashmir's accession to India in 1947 in response to a question from an Indian reporter at the National Press club in Washington, DC.
Relations with India improved somewhat under the administration of President George W. Bush because he shifted the non-proliferation strategy towards India since India's nuclear capability did not threaten the interests of the United States and acted as a counterweight to China's nuclear weapons program.
Since the election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India in 2014, United States-India relations have improved substantially. Examples of areas where relations have improved include civil nuclear energy cooperation, upgrading defense cooperation, and arriving at a common understanding of various international issues. The overall increasing ties between India and the United States present an opportunity to increase those ties further.
In contrast to India becoming more open to close relations with the United States, America's relations with Pakistan have been strained. Pakistan’s military hiding Osama bin Laden has been a source of tension within the United States-Pakistan relationship and is a sign that it would be in United States interests to shift towards a more pro-India position. Pakistan's assistance towards the covert nuclear weapons of nations such as Libya, Iran, Iraq, and North Korea has also caused tensions with the United States.
Pakistan has also been forging a closer relationship with China. The $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, which is being built as part of China's 'One-Belt, One-Road' initiative, would give China direct access to the Indian Ocean via the Pakistani port of Gwadar. India has expressed concern about this since the road goes through the Pakistani occupied portion of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan's growing ties with China present another common threat that both India and the United States share concerns about.
India also has the stronger claim under international law. Under the principle of uti possidetis iuris, emerging states presumptively inherit their pre-independence administrative boundaries. As a result the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir's decision to integrate into India, this means that the full territory of Jammu and Kashmir belongs to India, even though Pakistan may be occupying a large portion of it.
Recognizing Indian sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir would be a component of soft power. Soft power is a form of power projection that convinces others to do what you want without the use of resources by using attraction, unlike hard power which uses resources to engage in methods such as coercion or payments. Doing this would mean that there is a higher likelihood that India would support some of our foreign policy goals than they otherwise would.
Relations between India and the United States have been improving in recent years, but there is still room for further improvement. American recognition of Indian sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir is one step that can further strengthen that relationship.
Zachary Leshin is a former congressional staffer who has worked extensively in foreign policy