Friday, January 30, 2009
Obama Backtracks on Kashmir
After repeatedly emphasizing that Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan is inextricably linked to Afghanistan crisis, President Barack Obama has begun to backtrack on the need for resolving Kashmir.
The clearest signal yet of this change of heart came this week when Kashmir was dropped from special envoy Richard Holbrooke's mandate under pressure from Indian lobby in Washington. According to Washington Post, India managed to "prune the portfolio of the Obama administration's top envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard C. Holbrooke -- basically eliminating the contested region of Kashmir from his job description".
In run-up to the last US presidential elections and until recently, it was widely known that Obama believes the situation in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. “The most important thing we’re going to have to do with respect to Afghanistan, is actually deal with Pakistan,” Obama said in an interview on October 30 with MSNBC. “And we’ve got work with the newly elected government there in a coherent way that says, terrorism is now a threat to you. Extremism is a threat to you. We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants.”
Obama reiterated his emphasis on Kashmir in a December 7 interview on NBC's Meet The Press. He said, "...as I've said before, we can't continue to look at Afghanistan in isolation. We have to see it as a part of a regional problem that includes Pakistan, includes India, includes Kashmir, includes Iran. And part of the kind of foreign policy I want to shape is one in which we have tough, direct diplomacy combined with more effective military operations, focused on what is the number one threat against U.S. interests and U.S. lives. And that's al-Qaeda and, and, and their various affiliates, and we are going to go after them fiercely in the years to come."
The deletion is seen as a significant diplomatic concession to India that reflects increasingly warm ties between the country and the United States, according to South Asia analysts.
Indian diplomats, worried about Holbrooke's tough-as-nails reputation, wanted to keep him away from Kashmir, according to several Indian officials and Indian news media reports. Holbrooke is nicknamed "the Bulldozer" for arm-twisting warring leaders to the negotiating table as he hammered out the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the war in Bosnia, a peace that has stuck. The Indians are quite happy to see this "Bulldozer" riding roughshod over Pakistan.
Recalling her meeting with Holbrooke and Richard Perle in Kazakhstan, Pakistani analyst Shireen Mazari wrote recently that she "was surprised by the similarity of views they both held towards the Muslim world in general, and towards what the U.S. was doing post-9/11 in Afghanistan. Also, if we remember that Holbrooke was Hillary Clinton's senior policy adviser, we will understand where he is really coming from. After all, Hillary Clinton supported the Iraq war until it became unpopular in the U.S.!"
Mazari further added, "Again, it was Holbrooke ( who happens to be Jewish-American), as the U.S. ambassador at the UN, who arranged for Israel to be admitted into a regional grouping of Western European and other nations–to allow Israel access to membership of crucial committees and other privileges. Interestingly, Scott Ritter, a UN Weapons' Inspector in Iraq (1991-1998), has recalled how, in a television discussion in October 2001, Holbrooke had rejected any form of diplomacy in Afghanistan and had favored only military action. Hardly the sort of man who will be open to the sensitivities of Pakistan!"
"I think it is time for us -- having fobbed off Holbrooke -- to sit quietly and ask where are we and how do we manage the situation," said C. Raja Mohan, an Indian strategic analyst who served on India's national security advisory board in 2006.
"Intellectually, it is impossible to disentangle these problems (Afghanistan and Kashmir) from each other," said Daniel Markey, a South Asia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. "The smartest thing is to work on this behind the scenes."
Time Magazine reports that the Obama Administration is not going to buy India's line that the U.S. should butt out of Kashmir. The President himself plainly believes there's a role for the U.S. to play.However, it's not clear how the US would play such a role.
The fact that Obama has already begun to show serious weakness in his dealings with India does not augur well for the success of any back-channel negotiations. If anything, it'll just mean more pressure on Pakistan to essentially agree to whatever terms are dictated by India through Holbrooke, the "Bulldozer".
In an earlier post, I had expressed the hope that Obama and his allies will show tough love to India and Israel, the kind of tough love that makes two of America's best friends see what is truly in their own best interest. The latest news about Obama's attitude suggests that my hope was misplaced. As far as India and Israel are concerned, we are likely to see a lot of diplomatic activity but no real fundamental shifts from the failed Bush policies of coddling Israel and India. The early indications are that Obama's "change" will only be skin-deep when it comes to changing the course of events in South Asia and the Middle East. On the contrary, Afghanistan and Pakistan will likely become Obama's Indochina, far worse than Bush's Iraq.
Here are two videos to explain Kashmir. The first is on the Obama vision of solving the Kashmir issue. The second is a comprehensive video on the origins of Kashmir dispute and the positions of various parties as presented by Pakistani Peace Activist Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy:
Obama's South Asia Policy
Military Occupation of Kashmir
Bruce Riedel Interview
Clues to Obama's South Asia Policy