US Ties India-Pak Talks To Afghanistan5 February 2010
Times of India
Washington DC: The persuasive hand behind the India-Pakistan thaw has welcomed New Delhi’s decision to talk to Islamabad while underscoring the dialogue’s importance to the situation in Afghanistan rather than to Pakistan’s peeves about Kashmir. Two senior US officials who gave thumbs up to India’s move explicitly linked the decision to the complex situation in Afghanistan where New Delhi and Islamabad are locked in shadow boxing that could prove detrimental to Washington’s goals of enforcing peace and exiting from there. Neither of them mentioned Pakistan’s obsession with the unresolved Kashmir issue or India’s focus on terrorism. 'We are supportive of dialogue among India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan as a key component of moving ahead and achieving a stable region,' P.J.Crowley, Assistant Secretary of State who is also the state department spokesman said on Thursday when asked about the Indian offer, adding, 'We certainly have been encouraging steps that both Pakistan and India could take to address mutual concerns and to take appropriate steps so that tensions can be reduced, cooperation can be increased, and as a result, you have a more stable region that is focused on threats – both interests that they share and threats that they share.' The US concern about Afghanistan at the expense of Pakistan’s Kashmir agenda was made even more explicit by Washington’s special Representative to Af-Pak Richard Holbrooke, who made an important pronouncement – that will be music to New Delhi’s ears – by endorsing India’s stake in the war-torn country where Pakistan is questioning its locus standi. 'The Indians have a legitimate series of security interests in that region, as do a number of other countries, including, of course, Pakistan, China and all the other countries that neighbor on Afghanistan,' Holbrooke said at a briefing for the international media. 'And any search for a resolution of the war in Afghanistan requires that the legitimate security interests of every country be understood and taken into account.' 'The dilemma arises when those security interests tend to be in conflict,' Holbrooke continued in his exposition of the India-Pakistan face-off. 'And Afghanistan has suffered throughout history by the fact that it has sometimes become the terrain for surrogate struggles for power. We do not want to see that happen.' While some US analysts have suggested resolving the Kashmir issue is central to US success in Afghanistan, Holbrooke declined to endorse the line of thinking, in keeping with the counter-view that Kashmir was just a symptom of Pakistan dysfunction, not the cause. Asked how important Kashmir is for reducing tension between India and Pakistan, Holbrooke dismissed the issue from the US agenda while declining to even mention the K-word at a time when Pakistan is poised to put it back on the front-burner. 'On the specific you talked about, we are not going to negotiate or mediate on that issue. And I'm going to try to keep my record and not even mention it by name, Holbrooke said, adding, “But I want to be clear that anything that the two countries do to reduce tensions or improve relations will be something we would applaud and encourage.” “But we are not going to act as intermediaries between Islamabad and New Delhi. That is not what we are here to do. I'm not just talking about myself,” Holbrooke maintained, suggesting that it was broadly the policy of the Obama administration and a continuation of the Bush White House’s policy of not highlighting the Kashmir issue. Statements from the two officials on a day Pakistan pushed the envelope on Kashmir (with Kashmir Day rallies across the country) in response to India’s offer on talks indicated that US did not share Islamabad’s agenda on key issues, including downsizing New Delhi’s role in Afghanistan. The global think tank Stratfor has already forecast a deadlock without American help. 'India will want to talk about Pakistani-sponsored militancy and Taliban negotiations. Pakistan will want to talk about everything else. It will be up to the United States to attempt to bridge this difficult gap,' Stratfor said in an analysis on Thursday. Though little progress has been made in India's efforts to get Islamabad to crack down on India-focused militants operating on Pakistani soil, India's concerns over Taliban appeasement in Afghanistan are driving New Delhi toward engagement with Islamabad, the think tank said. US officials were clearly in the loop on the Indian olive branch, with various administration mandarins having made known for weeks that Washington prefers engagement to India’s posture of no-talks till Pakistan acts on 26-11. The reasoning in Washington was that India’s 'obdurate' position was allowing Pakistan’s militaristic constituency to up the ante and build up a hostile atmosphere at the expense of its peace-seeking civil society, undermining US goals in Afghanistan.