Pushing Kashmir on India-Pakistan agenda would be fruitless: US experts

April 12th, 2009 - 1:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Richard Holbrooke By Arun Kumar
Washington, April 12 (IANS) As the United States seeks to involve India in a big way in fighting extremism in Afghanistan, US experts suggest that it would be fruitless to push the Kashmir issue on the India-Pakistan agenda.

In its dealings with the US, “India has been maintaining a forceful voice in matters relating to Pakistan,” says Reva Bhalla, Director of Analysis at STRATFOR, a global intelligence agency.

India was clear that it is not going to accept any US pressure on Kashmir, she said, noting that New Delhi had successfully lobbied against including India in the brief of Richard Holbrooke, the US special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“So it’s kind of fruitless to push Kashmir unless India is willing,” Bhalla told IANS, commenting on an Asia Society task force report endorsing the past US approach of acting from behind the scenes on Kashmir as it pushes for a dialogue between the two South Asian neighbours.

As both Holbrooke and National Security Advisor James Jones were active members of the task force until they took up their current assignments, the suggestion had sent alarm bells ringing in New Delhi.

Lisa Curtis, a Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank, too is for leaving Kashmir out of the India-Pakistan dialogue.

“The US has the best chance for reducing Indo-Pakistani tensions by quietly prodding the two sides to resume their bilateral dialogue, which made significant progress from 2004-2007,” she told IANS.

But “the resumption of talks now depends on whether Pakistan takes steps to shut down the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group responsible for the Mumbai attacks, and prosecutes the indviduals involved in those attacks,” Curtis noted.

Instead the US should encourage India and Pakistan to add the issue of Afghanistan to their composite dialogue, in the event bilateral talks resume, she said. “The only way to reduce the threat of terrorism in the region is to increase cooperation and regional integration among India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.”

The US also “has a role to play in both reducing genuine anxiety among the Pakistanis about India’s role in the region, while at the same time not tolerating unfounded Pakistani claims about Indian activities in Afghanistan,” Curtis said.

“For instance, the Pakistanis have claimed India has established ‘dozens’ of consulates in the country - a ludicrous claim that can be easily fact-checked,” she said.

But Bhalla thought a dialogue alone would not work. The Asia Society task force’s suggestion that the US should relieve Pakistan’s anxiety about Indian consulates in Afghanistan by encouraging transparency and dialogue between them “sounds nice on paper but how exactly to do that?” she wondered.

India has been gaining influence in Afghanistan with increased development assistance while Pakistani influence is waning, Bhalla said, noting Indian consulates do have a strategic purpose behind that.

It would be a big challenge for the US as it wants to involve New Delhi in a big way in Afghanistan, while India has been kind of standing on the sidelines.

The US also wants Pakistan to focus on its western border with Afghanistan instead of the eastern border with India, Bhalla said. But a historical fear of India is so deeply embedded in Pakistan’s psyche.

India, on the other hand, is worried about US plans to engage the moderate Taliban, an approach that Pakistan favours to retain its leverage as it fears that since the US is very involved in the war in Afghanistan, it would be left standing alone against the Taliban.

The Obama administration is trying to give an impression that it values Pakistan as an ally and would not abandon it yet even as it forges strategic ties with India, Bhalla said.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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