Obama advised to avoid falling into Kashmir trap

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : A leading South Asia expert has advised President Barack Obama to avoid falling into the trap of trying to directly mediate between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue given New Delhi’s concerns.

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“There is some uncertainty over whether the new Obama will maintain the current momentum in improving US-India ties,” Lisa Curtis, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank told a Congressional panel Thursday.

“Obama’s statements during last year’s presidential campaign linking the resolution of the Kashmir conflict to the stabilisation of Afghanistan have raised concerns in New Delhi,” she said testifying before the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia.

India fears “the new Administration might revert back to policies that view India narrowly through the South Asia prism rather than as the emerging global power it has become.”

Indian concerns were somewhat assuaged by the late-January announcement that Richard Holbrooke, special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, would focus on those two countries, not on India or Jammu and Kashmir, Curtis noted.

Giving her policy recommendations on “Building a Strategic Partnership: US-India Relations in the Wake of Mumbai” she said: “Washington should avoid falling into the trap of trying to directly mediate on the Indo-Pakistani dispute over Kashmir.”

The US should instead encourage the two sides to resume bilateral talks that had made substantial progress from 2004 to 2007, Curtis said suggesting “recent assertions 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.”

“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 believes to be within reach.”

Such a scenario is hardly unprecedented, Curtis said, recalling former Pakistan president “Pervez Musharraf initiated the Kargil incursion into Indian-administered Kashmir in 1999 precisely to raise the profile of the Kashmir issue and to encourage international mediation.”

The US can play a more productive role in easing Indo-Pakistani tensions by pursuing a quiet diplomatic role that encourages them to resume bilateral negotiations, she said.