Stay Away From Kashmir, Report Warns Obama

8 January 2009

Washington DC: The incoming Obama administration should stay away from any “high-visibility” focus on the Kashmir issue as it would likely evoke Indian resistance and risk fuelling Pakistani expectations of a settlement favouring Islamabad, a Congressional report has warned. The report, prepared by the Congressional Research Service for American lawmakers, said the fallout of the Mumbai Terror attacks, being perceived as India’s 9-11, could further complicate America’s South Asia policy. The 19-page report titled ‘Terrorist Attacks in Mumbai, India and Implications for US Interests’, prepared in mid-December for the US lawmakers - the 111th Congress in particular - was released on Wednesday and a copy was obtained by PTI. In seeking to revamp US’s South Asia policy, President-elect Barack Obama and his advisors may face a key central question: are conflictual relations between the region’s two largest states primarily an India-Pakistan problem or are they mainly a Pakistan problem alone, it said. Any high-visibility US Government focus on the Kashmir issue “would risk fuelling Pakistani expectations of a future settlement favouring Pakistan, thus providing a motive for Islamabad to sustain pressure by ramping up support for Kashmiri separatists”, it said. “The Administration of President-elect Barack Obama may seek to increase US diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving conflict between these two countries,” the Congressional report said. It stated the basic US position that links of the Mumbai terror attack go back to LeT, whose leaders have had the patronage of the Pakistani establishment, the ISI in particular. “Potential issues for the 111th Congress with regard to India include legislation that would foster greater US-India counter-terrorism relations,” it said. With regard to Pakistan, Congressional attention is likely to remain focused on the programming and potential further conditioning of US foreign assistance, including that related to security and counter-terrorism. Referring to Obama’s remarks, before the Mumbai attacks, that reconciliation between India and Pakistan would be a “key foreign policy goal” of his administration, the report said: “Renewed tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad could easily derail such a track while simultaneously intensifying pressure on the US to facilitate regional conflict resolution.” As for Pakistan, the report said, the Mumbai attacks have brought sharp attention to the ongoing problem of Islamist terrorism that emanates from this country. Zardari faces the difficult task of avoiding open conflict with India while at the same time not alienating Pakistan’s powerful military and intelligence services, it observed.