US Walks Tightrope Between South Asia Rivals
The new U.S. special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, is on
his maiden trip to South Asia. Talks in the region are expected to focus on
Afghanistan and counterterrorism. However, Kashmir - the regional issue that
Pakistan holds most important - and that has been an irritant to its relations
with India - is not on the agenda.
As a special envoy to South Asia, Richard Holbrooke seeks Pakistan's help in
stemming cross-border attacks by the Taliban into Afghanistan and shutting
terrorist safe havens in Pakistan's border regions.
But Kashmir, which is Pakistan's overriding preoccupation, is not a subject for
discussion, as State Department spokesman Robert Wood recently noted.
"It's not in his mandate, as you mention, to deal with the subject of Kashmir,"
Wood said. "His mandate is to go out and try to help bring stability to
Afghanistan, working closely with Pakistan to try to deal with the situation in
the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Area] region."
Pakistan considers the divided region of Kashmir disputed territory. India says
the issue was settled long ago and there is nothing to discuss.
Christine Fair, a South Asian affairs analyst at the RAND Corporation, says
removing Kashmir from Holbrooke's mandate may have soothed Indian sensibilities,
but makes it difficult for Pakistani leaders to openly help the United States.
"If you believe that getting better cooperation from Pakistan requires more
attention to its regional equities, and you take out the thing that it cares
about most, how is this effective? And, moreover, if the value of this is really
strategic communications to create the illusion that we care, taking out the
thing that it [Pakistan] cares most about, I would argue, is almost a bigger
insult that not having the envoy at all," Fair says.
has been the centerpiece of antagonism between India and Pakistan ever since the
subcontinent became independent from British rule in 1947. Its split at the time
of independence sparked three full scale wars and several other close calls.
India has repeatedly accused Pakistan of backing Kashmiri separatists in the
Indian portion of the territory. Most recently New Delhi blamed Kashmiri
militants, aided by Pakistani intelligence, for the terrorist attack in Mumbai
that killed more than 160 people. Pakistan denies involvement.
At the same time that the United States seeks closer antiterrorism cooperation
with Pakistan, it is also trying to cement closer ties to India. A recently
concluded civilian nuclear deal with India caused much dismay in Islamabad.
Former CIA officer Mike Scheuer says Pakistan is also upset over growing Indian
influence with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.
"Kind of the unspoken card in here that drives the Pakistanis crazy is our
allowing Mr. Karzai to set up a very large Indian presence in Afghanistan, which
is something [for] the Pakistanis, it really drives them around the wall because
they've always counted on the western border being quiet so that they could face
their main enemy in India," Scheuer says.
A $1-billion project was just completed linking Afghanistan's main highway to a
main highway in Iran. The strategic road opens a new trade route from landlocked
Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean that bypasses the traditional route through
Pakistan. The Karzai government also allowed the opening of Indian consulates in
Jalalabad, Kandahar, Herat, and Mazar-e-Sharif.
A suicide bomber detonated a car bomb outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul last
July, killing 41 people and injuring nearly 140 more. President Karzai blamed
the attack on militants seeking to sabotage the growing Indo-Afghan
relationship. India charged Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate
with aiding the attackers, and U.S. officials have said there is evidence to
back up that claim. Pakistan has strongly denied the charge.
... Payvand News - 02/11/09 ... --