Turn the Focus on Kashmir
Joshua Gross | Foreign Policy | January 2010
The U.S. government has all but ignored the conflict in Kashmir and espoused a "hands off" approach on the issue. However, pressure to engage is increasing. After all, a resolution of the Kashmir conflict, which pits two nuclear powers against one another, is closely tied to failure or success in Afghanistan. It is therefore crucial not only to security in South Asia, but to U.S. national security as well. The longer the precarious Kashmir conflict is allowed to simmer, the greater the threat to regional security. The Kashmir question should no longer be regarded as a nuisance, but rather as a key to regional stability. If the U.S. wishes to succeed in Afghanistan, it has to resolve the Kashmir issue first.
Not surprisingly, India as well as Pakistan distrusts the U.S. handling of the Kashmir conflict, considering the opaque nature of U.S. historic interests in the region. It is imperative for the Obama administration to bring renewed attention to the Kashmir question. A first step in the right direction is the presence of Richard Holbrooke as the administration's special representative in the area. Moreover, the leader of the Kashmiri separatists Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has requested U.S. diplomatic assistance in the negotiations. The Obama administration would do well to advance consultations by engaging India's Prime Minister Singh more actively and insisting on discussing Kashmir. Up to now, India has been adamant that the conflict constituted a bilateral affair and reluctant to permit third party involvement in the peace process. The Indian government has repeatedly made its stance clear to Washington during talks on the issue. This notwithstanding, the Obama administration should discreetly try to influence India's stance on the Kashmir question. While engaging India on climate and economic matters in official discussions, it could use back channel diplomacy to approach truly sensitive issues such as Kashmir. It is necessary to arrive at a binding settlement concerning Kashmir's borders, to allow a referendum on the question of independence, and to counter terrorism in the region. A de-escalation of the Kashmir conflict would allow Pakistani troop reductions along the 640 mile-long line of control on the Indian-Pakistani border and their redeployment to areas within Pakistan threatened by terrorist activity.
The Obama administration must realize that in order to succeed in Afghanistan, the United States has to play a more active role in the resolution of the Kashmir conflict. India should be induced to make greater concessions to Pakistan on the issue. Pakistan in turn should be expected to make greater efforts to contribute to U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. Even though the topic of Indian-Pakistani differences is not a popular one with U.S. diplomats, they should nonetheless strive to get both sides engaged in renewed back channel negotiations in order to deescalate tensions in the region. During the 1999 Kargil crisis, President Clinton promised to make Kashmir a high priority on the U.S. agenda. The time has come for the Obama administration to be held to that promise.
This summary was prepared by the Atlantic Community Editorial Team from "The Forgotten Front," published here by Foreign Policy.