US envoy Richard Holbrooke will tread a fine line in India on an imminent visit,seeking stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan without mentioning the Kashmir dispute many see as a source of the region’s conflicts.
The US envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan is due to visit India in the next week,although no date has been given. He is currently in Pakistan and is also due in Afghanistan.
India has made it clear to President Barack Obama it opposes any Washington attempt to find a Kashmir solution as part of Holbrooke’s broader remit to rid Pakistan and Afghanistan of Islamist militancy.
Instead Holbrooke,a former ambassador to the United Nations who negotiated the 1995 peace agreement ending the Bosnian war,will be talking about India’s role in Afghanistan.
“If the US is hoping to bring peace to Afghanistan,it will obviously have to take India into account,” an Indian government official,who asked not to be named,said last week.
“We believe his visit will be for that. He wouldn’t be here if it were for Kashmir.”
India sees itself as a promoter of stability in Afghanistan. It is building highways,setting up consulates and is one of the country’s biggest donors. It also believes it has diplomatic leverage through Afghanistan’s neighbours like Iran.
All that scares Pakistan,which fears New Delhi’s influence in its own “backyard”. Analysts say these fears make Pakistan reluctant to completely cut ties with the Taliban,seeing the militant group as a tool to maintain influence in Afghanistan.
A suicide bombing at the Indian embassy in Kabul last year killed at least 58 people. India and Afghanistan blamed Pakistani intelligence for the blast.
Holbrooke will hope to build greater trust between India and Pakistan over their roles in Afghanistan.
“Even if they avoid Kashmir,there is a plateful of issues,especially India’s role in Afghanistan which is really the heart of the matter,” said foreign affairs commentator Manoj Joshi.
PAKISTAN PRESSES ON KASHMIR
The trouble for Holbrooke is that will not be enough for Pakistan,which wants a solution to divided Kashmir,the core dispute in Islamabad’s eyes.
Holbrooke also faces Indian suspicions,with New Delhi totally opposed to any outside role in the Kashmir dispute.
When Obama suggested during his campaign that a special envoy was needed for Kashmir,he was widely criticised by Indian media.
Former diplomats say New Delhi went on the diplomatic offensive in Washington to strip Holbrooke of any Kashmir role.
The fact New Delhi succeeded underscores India’s ascendant power. India has become a major economic partner of the United States,not least for a $10 billion fighter jet deal for which US companies are bidding.
Indian officials believe Washington must focus on bringing the Pakistan military establishment into line and stop Islamabad allowing militants to cross the Indian border for attacks like the November raids in Mumbai.
But New Delhi worries Pakistan will set conditions on Holbrooke — insisting Washington talk about Kashmir if it wants help in the fight against militants on the Afghan border.
Some Indian analysts believe Holbrooke will eventually have to bring up Kashmir.
“I don’t think that India is under any illusion that Holbrooke won’t gradually widen his remit,” said Siddharth Varadarajan,strategic affairs editor of the Hindu newspaper.
“Eventually there will be a tendency for Holbrooke to ask India to cut Pakistan some slack.”
India is also walking on eggs with Holbrooke’s visit. It wants to pressure Pakistan to act over a dossier of evidence New Delhi presented to Islamabad over the Mumbai attacks that killed 179 people.
But if New Delhi presses Islamabad too hard,Holbrooke could be inexorably drawn into an India-Pakistan dispute,rather than the issue at hand — Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“I’m not sure India wants Holbrooke to turn into a mediator between Pakistan and India,” Joshi said.
A diplomatic spat between the two nuclear powers could force the “K” word into talks.
“Kashmir is shorthand for Indian-Pakistan relations,” said Varadarajan.