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Is Kashmir key to Afghan peace?

Barack Obama says resolving the Indian-Pakistani dispute over Kashmir will be a goal of his presidency, ending eight years of silence on the issue.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor, Shahan MuftiCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / November 21, 2008

Disputed region: A soldier in Srinagar, India, checked motorists' papers Nov. 17, the day voting for state elections in Indian Kashmir began.

dar Yasin/ap

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As part of his push to find new solutions to the war in Afghanistan, President-elect Barack Obama is considering a new diplomatic push on Kashmir, reversing eight years of American silence on the issue.

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Mr. Obama has argued that Pakistan will not fully commit to fighting the insurgency it shares with Afghanistan until it sheds historic insecurities toward India. Talks about Kashmir, the central point of contention between the two nuclear rivals, are among the "critical tasks for the next administration," Obama said in an interview last month with Time magazine.

It is a strategy that worries Indians, who suggest the Pakistani Army is blackmailing Obama to support its claims. Yet security analysts say the Afghan insurgency has roots in the power struggle between India and Pakistan and cannot be solved without a regional approach.

"It will be very hard to put Afghanistan on a long-term positive path without alleviating some of the Indo-Pakistan tensions," says Xenia Dormandy of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

Such ideas would appear to fit well with the doctrines of Gen. David Petraeus, who oversaw a significant improvement in law and order in Iraq. He is now the commander of American forces in the entire region, which includes Afghanistan.

General Petraeus has been an open advocate of regional diplomacy as a key counterinsurgency tactic. On Oct. 15, he told a round table of Washington Post reporters that in seeking solutions to Afghanistan, "there may be opportunities with respect to India."

The goal would be to build a level of trust between India and Pakistan, freeing Pakistan from its historic fear of India, with which it has fought three wars. The surest way to do this, Obama has said, is to find a solution to Kashmir – the state split between each but claimed in full by both.

"We should try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that [Pakistan] can stay focused – not on India, but on the situation with those militants," he told MSNBC on Oct. 31.

Obama went further in the Time interview, mentioning he has spoken with former President Bill Clinton about becoming a special envoy to the region – a comment that has been front-page news in India and Pakistan.