New US Envoy's Job Excludes J&K

23 January 2009
Daily News & Analysis

New York: US president Barack Obama ultimately listened to his chief diplomat Hillary Clinton and agreed to take Kashmir off the South Asian envoy's job description, much to India's relief.Obama on Thursday named career diplomat Richard Holbrooke to be his point-man for Pakistan and Afghanistan, cementing a commitment to grappling with what the president described as 'the central front' in the fight against terrorism. In office little more than 48 hours, Obama travelled on Thursday to the State Department, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden. 'My administration is committed to refocusing attention and resources on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to spending those resources wisely,' Obama said. 'And that's why we are pursuing a careful review of our policy,' he added, as secretary of state Hillary Clinton announced the names of veteran envoys to be his point-men. Senator George Mitchell, who oversaw peace talks between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, will be the special envoy for Middle East peace. Holbrooke, 67, who negotiated the Dayton peace accords that ended the war in Bosnia, was named special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Obama administration will use 'less stick and more carrot' in dealing with allies and rivals. Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari is visiting Washington later this month and Holbrooke will drive the message home when he meets him at Blair House. Last week, when Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari talked up Islamabad's 'urgent need' for a $15-billion aid package, pending before Congress, Joe Biden, then vice president-elect, said the Mumbai terror plotters had to be punished, according to a diplomat who didn't want to be named. He said Biden drew a link between aid and India's demand for action on a list of 20 wanted terrorists. However, Biden stopped short of asking Pakistan to hand over the suspects to India. Clinton said on Thursday that Holbrooke will coordinate an effort across the government, including Defense Department, to achieve US goals in Afghanistan and Pakistan. DNA had reported on Sunday that Clinton was conscious about India's sensitivities about mediation on Kashmir and had nipped the idea in the bud of putting an envoy to work directly on India and Pakistan. 'Fortunately, the Obama team recognizes the key to stabilizing Afghanistan does not lie in resolving Kashmir as some have tried to assert,' said Lisa Curtis, senior research fellow for South Asia at the Heritage Foundation. United Kingdom Foreign Secretary David Miliband had angered India by suggesting that resolving the Kashmir dispute would help deny extremists in the region one of their main calls to arms and allow Pakistan to focus on tackling the threat on their western borders. Obama plans to send 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan. 'Violence is up dramatically in Afghanistan... The American people and international community must understand that the situation is perilous,' said Obama. 'Al Qaeda and the Taliban strike from bases embedded in rugged tribal terrain along the Pakistani border. And while we have yet to see another attack on our soil since 9-11, Al Qaeda terrorists remain at large.'