Nov 3, 2008 4:50 pm


American Indians are elated. A dark skinned man may become president. In India they worry. Barack Obama talks tough about Pakistan but India is the one destined to provide the carrot. He is about to break with 60 years of American foreign policy tradition and get involved with the issue of Kashmir. The Indian Express reports:

In an interview broadcast on MSNBC, Obama suggested that his administration would encourage India to solve the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan, so that Islamabad can better cooperate with the United States on Afghanistan. Obama’s definitive thesis comes in three parts.

“The most important thing we’re going to have to do with respect to Afghanistan is actually deal with Pakistan. And we’ve got to work with the newly elected Government there (Pakistan) in a coherent way that says, terrorism is now a threat to you. Extremism is a threat to you. We should — try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they (Pakistan) can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants”. India entirely agrees with the first two elements but should strongly object to the third.

Put simply, the Obama thesis says: the sources of Afghan instability are in Pakistan; those in turn are linked to Islamabad’s conflict with New Delhi, at the heart of which is Jammu and Kashmir.

For months now, New Delhi has been assessing Obama’s seeming hard-line towards Pakistan, including a threat to bomb terrorist bases there if Islamabad failed to act against the al-Qaida and the Taliban. India, however, has paid less attention to the carrot

Obama was offering Pakistan—American activism on Kashmir in return for credible cooperation in Afghanistan.

Obama’s remarks on Kashmir are by no means off the cuff. They have been remarkably consistent since he launched his presidential campaign. In the first comprehensive articulation of his world view in the journal Foreign Affairs during the summer of 2007, Obama argued, “If Pakistan can look towards the east (India) with confidence, it will be less likely to believe its interests are best advanced through cooperation with the Taliban.”

If Obama’s Kashmir thesis becomes the policy, many negative consequences might ensue. For one, an American diplomatic intervention in Kashmir will make it impossible for India to pursue the current serious back channel negotiations with Pakistan on Kashmir, the first since 1962-63.

India and Pakistan have made progress in recent years, because their negotiations have taken place in a bilateral context. Third party involvement will rapidly shrink the domestic political space for India on Kashmir negotiations.

For another, the prospect that the U S might offer incentives on Kashmir is bound to encourage the Pakistan Army to harden its stance against the current peace process with India.

Finally, the sense that an Obama Administration will put Jammu & Kashmir on the front burner would give a fresh boost to militancy in Kashmir and complicate the current sensitive electoral process there. Kashmiri separatist lobbies in Washington have already embraced Obama’s remarks.

China must be thrilled. So much for the new India-US strategic relations.

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