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Obama proposal for Kashmir envoy misguided: US scholar

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : Calling US president-elect Barack Obama’s recent proposal to name a special envoy on Kashmir as “misguided”, an American South Asia expert instead favours a “broad-based South Asia regional envoy”.

Last week’s terror attacks in Mumbai emphasise the “need to defuse long-standing strategic (regional) rivalries in order to contain the terrorist scourge threatening the long-term stability of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India,” writes Lisa Curtis.

Recognising this reality has resulted in murmurings regarding the need for a US Kashmir envoy, noted Curtis, senior research fellow for South Asia in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.

“The real need, however, is for a broad-based South Asia regional envoy; the distinction between the two is enormously important,” she wrote in an article.

“Obama’s recent assertion that the US should try to help resolve the Kashmir issue so that Pakistan can focus on reining in militancy on its Afghan border is misguided,” Curtis wrote.

For “raising the spectre of international intervention in the dispute could fuel unrealistic expectations in Pakistan for a final settlement in its favour”, she said, adding: “Such expectations could encourage Islamabad to increase support for Kashmiri militants to push an agenda it believed was within reach.”

Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf initiated the Kargil incursion into India’s Kashmir in 1999 precisely to raise the profile of the Kashmir issue and to encourage international mediation, Curtis noted.

Instead of narrowly focusing on Kashmir, the incoming Obama administration should assume a much wider view of the region’s challenges, she suggested.

“Such a broad approach would recognise that Pakistan’s focus on Kashmir is a symptom of broader issues, including the impact of India’s emergence as a global power and the Pakistani army’s continued domination over the country’s national security policies,” Curtis wrote.

The Indians would be unreceptive to direct international mediation on Kashmir, she said as “any such move in this direction would raise suspicions in New Delhi that Washington is reverting back to policies that view India only through the South Asia lens rather than as the rising world power it has become”.

“This perception could hurt the Obama administration’s ability to build on major gains the Bush team made in improving what vice president-elect Joe Biden has himself called one of the most important bilateral relationships for the US in the 21st century,” Curtis said.

On the other hand, a high-profile regional envoy can play a productive role in simultaneously easing both Pakistan-Afghanistan and India-Pakistan tensions, she said.

He could do so by prodding the countries to move forward with confidence-building measures, like the recent opening of a road between Indian and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Curtis suggested.

Perhaps the most important task of this regional envoy would be convincing the Pakistani military to give up its policies of relying on violent extremist groups to achieve its foreign policy objectives in the region, she said.

“In order to defuse the Indo-Pakistani crisis over the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan must shut down the Kashmir-focused groups it has spawned and that increasingly have links to international terrorism, including most likely the atrocities in Mumbai.”

Obama rightly recognises the need for the US to engage in more robust regional diplomacy to defuse deep-seated animosities, but he must avoid falling into the trap of seeking to appoint a Kashmir-specific envoy, she said.

For this could backfire by fuelling unrealistic expectations of those who wish to change the status quo as well as undermine the great potential of the US-India relationship, Curtis warned.