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.
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Nothing could be more damaging to American interests in the region, says Raja Mohan, a member of India's National Security Advisory Board. He claims Indo-Pakistan relations are better than they have ever been, citing the recent opening of trade between Pakistan - and-Indian-controlled Kashmir as something that would have been unthinkable in the past.Skip to next paragraph
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Moreover, he suggests India and Pakistan have behind the scenes made significant progress on the issue of Kashmir, to the point that the two nations have a tentative road map for how to resolve the crisis. It was scuppered only by the collapse of former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's regime in August.
Bush steered clear of Kashmir
The progress was partly the result of the Bush administration's decision to steer clear of Kashmir, says Mr. Mohan. Entering the fray now would only disrupt the delicate balance, making it appear as if the US was merely trying to placate Pakistan in return for its support in the war against terror.
In such a case, Mohan says, India might have a hard time winning concessions for a fair deal: "So long as the Pakistani Army thinks that the Americans are on their side, they're not going to deal with India."
Both Obama and his top South Asia adviser, Bruce Riedel, have spoken of the need to be discreet. In a 2007 teleconference for the journal Foreign Affairs, Mr. Riedel said: "I would urge the administration to seize the opportunity to quietly, but forcefully, push for a resolution there."
In the interview he called Kashmir "the itch that has driven Pakistan towards supporting terrorism for the last 20 years." Indeed, many experts say the enmity – for which Kashmir is the most potent symbol – has shaped security in the region, including Afghanistan.
Rivalry plays out in Afghanistan
For years, the mutual mistrust has led India and Pakistan to play their own version of the Great Game in Afghanistan. India has consistently been Afghanistan's main ally in the region. But Pakistan sees Afghanistan as its strategic backyard, which under no circumstances can be yielded to Indian influence.
Fears are stoked by the memories of 1971, when the Indian Army helped Bengalis secede from Pakistan to form Bangladesh. With Afghanistan historically claiming a significant chunk of Pakistan as its own, Pakistanis worry that an Indian-backed Afghanistan could dismember Pakistan further.
"Pakistan is the only country in South Asia that stands between India's complete hegemony in this region," says Fahmida Ashraf, an analyst at the Institute for Strategic Studies in Islamabad, a thinktank funded by the Pakistan government.