Monday, January 19, 2009
Obama's Kashmir Focus
Even before Barack H. Obama assumes the US presidency tomorrow, the American president-elect has been actively working on his South Asia policy, with Kashmir as its centerpiece. Not only did he send his vice president-elect Joe Biden to visit Pakistan, he has also reached out to his defeated presidential rival John McCain upon Mr. McCain's recent return from a Pakistan trip. In an unprecedented move, Mr. Obama has quietly consulted Mr. McCain about many of the new administration’s potential nominees to top national security jobs and about other issues — in one case relaying back a contender’s answers to questions Mr. McCain had suggested, according to the New York Times. More recently, Foreign Policy journal reported of a secret dinner meeting in Washington's Ronald Reagan Building where Obama listened to several key figures including Ahmed Rashid who flew in from Lahore specially for the occasion.
It is 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."
During recent Senate confirmation hearings, the US Ambassador-designate to the UN, Susan Rice, identified Kashmir as one of the "hot spots" and included it with conflict-torn regions, including the Balkans and Golan Heights.
Earlier in September, Mr. Bruce Riedel, recently formally appointed as Pakistan adviser by Obama, told a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relation, "We can't expect Pakistan to behave like a normal state, unless it has normal borders. And we can't expect Pakistan to behave the way we would like it to while it's obsessed and fixated on its neighbor and the problem in Kashmir. The problem in Kashmir has been in the doldrums for the past several years. It is now starting to boil really quickly, and when Kashmir boils, the result is Indian-Pakistani tensions that can produce war. We've seen that over and over again," he said.
The Mumbai attacks have only served to strengthen Obama's Kashmir thesis and sharpen his national security team's focus on resolving the biggest obstacle to peace in South Asia. This fact has recently been underlined by his British ally, Foreign Secretary David Miliband. After his recent trip to India and Pakistan, Mr. Miliband wrote for the Guardian as follows: "Resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main calls to arms and allow Pakistani authorities to focus more effectively on tackling the threat on their western borders."
The Indian government and media have been protesting the statements by Obama and Miliband in the hope of averting a serious intervention by the West to force a resolution of the long-standing Kashmir dispute that can potentially trigger a nuclear holocaust. Former president of the United States and the husband of the incoming US secretary of state Hilary Clinton, Bill Clinton, on the eve of his 2000 visit to the subcontinent, called the ceasefire line that divides Kashmir "the most dangerous place in the world". In spite of the angry noises from New Delhi, there are reports that former United Nations Ambassador Richard Holbrooke will be tapped as Obama's special envoy to South Asia.
Miliband has called the war on terror "mistaken". Obama has refrained from the indiscriminate use of the label of "war on Terror" as a way to avoid solving fundamental issues. What Obama and Miliband are setting out to do will not be easy, either in South Asia or in the Middle East. There will be powerful opposition from the Indian and Israeli governments and their lobbyists and friends in US Congress. There will also be some concerns in Pakistan about imposing a Kashmir solution without taking Kashmiri leaders on board. But, to distance themselves from the misguided Bush policies and to leave a legacy of international peace of prosperity, Obama and his allies need to show tough love to their friends in 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.
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