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New US Administration:Unnecessary meddling with KASHMIR, by Dr. P. K. Vasudeva,29 January 2009 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 29 January 2009

New US Administration

Unnecessary meddling with KASHMIR

By Dr. P. K. Vasudeva

Recent statements made by influential figures in the Obama team that have sought to club Jammu and Kashmir with other conflict-torn regions of the world and indicate the need for international mediation between India and Pakistan, are reasons for concern in New Delhi. “Make no mistake about it. Increasing pressure will be brought on India over Kashmir,” cautions Satish Chandra, former deputy national security adviser.

The Government is apparently nervous about the policies the new US administration under President Barack Obama, could pursue on Kashmir, CTBT and other tricky issues, unlike the Bush presidency, where it had little to worry about. On Obama’s taking over charge as President, foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon’s reaction that he was ‘nervous about this change,' is natural.  

In a sense, the confusion started with Obama when he said in a pre-election interview last year that he was open to the idea of a special envoy on Kashmir to resolve an issue. This would leave Pakistan’s armed forces free to concentrate on combating the Islamist extremists in its tribal areas and neighbouring Afghanistan.

While it would be premature to make any comment at this point, there are all-too-real concerns that the Obama administration may bring the Kashmir issue to the fore on the "flawed assumption" that its resolution could be an incentive to Islamabad to fight wholeheartedly in the US campaign to liberate Afghanistan from the clutches of the Taliban. Further, Obama has yet to appoint key functionaries dealing with the region. Both the US Ambassador to India David C Mulford and US Assistant Secretary of State for Central and South Asia Richard Boucher have been asked to stay on for some more time till the new administration finds suitable replacements.

Perhaps a wait and watch policy would be best as suggests former secretary, External Affairs Ministry K C Singh. "We should not jump to conclusions. Obama's position on Pakistan is a work in progress," he said. "It will be a diplomatic challenge, but we should be more assertive about projecting our position on Kashmir." However, there are enough indications for New Delhi to up its diplomatic defences and make it clear to Washington and London that any intrusive diplomacy over the Kashmir issue will not succeed as it is a bilateral issue and Kashmir is an integral part of India.

The first concrete sign of potential activism on Kashmir came when British Foreign Secretary David Miliband tried to link J&K and Mumbai terrorism during his recent visit to Delhi. His remarks came barely a week before Obama took charge as President. In addition, Miliband also denounced the Bush war on terror as "misleading and misplaced", remarks that were seen as an echo of some pronouncements coming from the Obama team.

"Miliband was not just speaking for himself. He has been in touch with Obama people," is Satish Chandra’s explanation. He also talked of "incentivising" Pakistan for its cooperation in the battle against terrorism on its western flank that was a strategic priority for the West. However, if it was a freak view point of Miliband, there was not much to worry. New Delhi has consistently opposed the appointment of a special US envoy for Kashmir and amply made it known to Miliband that Kashmir was a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan.

During Obama’s election campaign, Susan Rice, ambassador-designate to the United Nations and an adviser on foreign policy to the new President, articulated this problematic position the next day when she clubbed together the Balkans, Cyprus, Golan Heights and Kashmir as conflict hotspots that required the UN to play "a critical role in forestalling renewed fighting".

Delhi also has reason to be upset over the way the US has been pressurising it to be more "restrained" in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, while it goes around giving a clean chit to the alleged involvement of Pakistani official agencies in the Mumbai carnage.

The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already announced a tripling of economic aid to Pakistan, which many here fear will go the way of the over $10- billion given by the Bush administration to the Musharraf administration. In fact, it was Obama who said that the US funds were being diverted to fund militancy against India. It is unclear as to what gives the US hope this time round that its aid will not meet the same fate.

The Obama Administration has defended the tripling of aid saying it will act as a leverage to get firmer commitments on combating terror from the Pakistan government and bolster the civilian government. However, there are some elements in the evolving position of the Obama team on Pakistan that gives New Delhi some hope. Senator John Kerry, chair of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has spoken about the US' new thrust on bringing Pakistan’s ‘spy agency’ ISI under civilian control. Whichever way Obama's position on Pakistan and Kashmir shapes up over the next few months, New Delhi is ready to take on the diplomatic challenge. Kashmir is a bilateral issue. That's our position and we will make that clear again and again.

Remember that Obama had made it known after he won the presidential election that he would appoint a special envoy for Kashmir. Then, last week, in her testimony to the US Congress, Rice called Kashmir as one of the ' global hot spots'. In fact, in one of her earlier statements, Rice had said that ‘Kashmir, along with Chechnya and Iraq, is an active recruiting ground for al-Qaeda.’

While it is natural for the US to give primacy to its strategic interests, former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal is of the firm opinion that it does not mean India should sacrifice its national interests...This will undermine the Indo-US strategic partnership developed over years. India should not pay any price for the US Afghan policy.' Likewise former National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra too has warned that Mr. Obama's personal involvement in the Kashmir issue would damage Indo-US relations. On the other hand, a Congressional Research Service report has warned the Obama administration should stay away from the Kashmir issue as it could anger India and raise Pakistan's expectations. Which way will it go eventually? –INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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