India should prepare for Obama’s regional strategy: expert (Interview)

January 27th, 2009 - 6:00 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Jan 27 (IANS) A US-brokered South Asia strategy based on regional cooperation will complement existing bilateral dialogues and can be “good” for India, Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, a leading strategic expert, said Tuesday.“The unknown question is whether or not there will be a Kashmir focus. At the end of the day, if India doesn’t want to be part of it, you can’t force it,” said Roy-Chaudhury of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

He said British Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s recent controversial comments about Kashmir - although “misplaced” - should be seen in the light of the shifting priorities signalled by Washington.

Roy-Chaudhury’s comments came as the IISS Tuesday published its Military Balance 2009 - a report that predicts that the failure of Western forces to counter the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2008 could prompt these powers to “reappraise their commitments” this year.

Roy-Chaudhury, who heads the South Asia division of IISS, said that with President Barack Obama shifting US strategic priority from Iraq to Afghanistan, New Delhi should be prepared for greater regional engagement.

“Indian fears are exaggerated. The clear challenge is Afghanistan, and India’s regional engagement will be good,” Roy-Chaudhuri told IANS.

He said Miliband’s recent statement urging a resolution of the Kashmir dispute should be seen in the light of shifting Western priorities.

“The British reaction has been very supportive to India, in condemning terrorism and in calling for UN sanctions against the Lashkar-e-Taiba.”

Although Miliband’s linking LeT with Kashmir was “misplaced and very tenuous”, Roy-Chaudhuri said, “The UK and the West are trying to get the momentum going on Kashmir.

“An element of British policy would like more movement on Kashmir because there is an acknowledgment that India holds the cards. That interest comes to the fore with Obama.”

The lack of tangible success in Afghanistan, coupled with the fact that Western troops are tied down in Iraq, meant the West was now keen on exploring alternative strategies.

“Now the feeling is that you can’t do Afghanistan without doing Pakistan, and you can’t do Pakistan without working with India,” said Roy-Chaudhury, who interacts closely with Western and South Asian security officials and experts.

He said the Obama Administration will seek to establish a “regional mechanism” to complement the existing bilateral dialogues that India has with the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“India will be drawn into what is happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but it’s not a change that India should be concerned about. Engagement via a regional security mechanism will complement the current process.”

Such a regional forum, he said, would focus on five issues: terrorism, development, political structures, tribal areas, and possibly Kashmir.

The Afghanistan linkage to the Kashmir dispute arises from the failure of the current Western anti-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan, which in turn has led to calls for more troops in that country.

Movement on the Kashmir issue, it is argued, would enable Pakistan to move its troops from the Indian border to the western border with Afghanistan.

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