Obama's Special Envoy Will Not Have India On His Plate
9 January 2009
The Times of India
: The Mumbai attacks may have showed more than anything else that terrorism from Pakistan is unconnected with the Kashmir issue, but India is still bracing itself for a period of difficult diplomacy with the US. The possible appointment of Richard Holbrooke as special envoy for Pakistan-Afghanistan is not a surprise and the incoming Barack Obama administration has acknowledged India's sensitivity to the issue by removing India from his 'beat'. This is an 'evolution' from the time Obama declared he wanted to send former president Bill Clinton to 'do' Kashmir. In fact, the ongoing visit by US vice-president elect Joe Biden to Pakistan - but not to India - to get a first-hand view of the situation is also intended to emphasise the different trajectories Obama says he wants to pursue in this region. So far so good. Difficulties will arise with India because Obama believes that the path to a peaceful Afghanistan runs through a Kashmir 'resolution'. As the US gets more involved in disentangling Pakistan and Afghanistan from terrorism, Taliban and al-Qaida, it will be tempting for Democrats to push a 'Kashmir solution' as a carrot for Pakistan to undertake tough policies on its northwestern border. This was Obama's dangerous misreading of the terrorism problem here, as he saw it. 'I will join with our allies in insisting, not simply requesting, that Pakistan crack down on the Taliban, pursue Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, and end its relationship with all terrorist groups. At the same time, I will encourage dialogue between Pakistan and India to work towards resolving their dispute over Kashmir and between Afghanistan and Pakistan to resolve their differences and develop the Pashtun border region. If Pakistan can look towards the east (India) with confidence, it will be less likely to believe its interests are best advanced through cooperation with the Taliban,' he said in an article in Foreign Affairs. Pakistan would run with this thinking and Pakistani analysts like Ahmed Rashid have already planted this thought in many heads. India will need to draw clear red lines with the incoming administration that Pakistan's terrorism problem has to do with it seeking 'strategic depth' against India and an old policy to 'bleed India with a thousand cuts'. The Obama administration will have to be walked back from what India will say is a dangerous starting point. India will say this would be tantamount to rewarding Pakistan's use of terrorism in its foreign policy. On the other hand, India will be an active participant in any 'regional approach' to bring peace to Afghanistan, particularly with active participation of Iran and perhaps even China and Russia in it, so long as India's legitimate interests in Afghanistan are recognised. But for that, the US and Iran need to be able to work out a better relationship, because it is clear Iran would not allow Afghanistan to slip back into the arms of Pakistan-Taliban again, without some serious destabilisation efforts which would affect US goals here too. It would be the only way to keep Pakistan under check. India continues to have an open mind on the entire envoy issue, but the government is clear on the red lines - that Kashmir will remain a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan, and Pakistan's support to terrorism has nothing to do with Kashmir.