Saturday :: Jan 24, 2009

The Holbrooke Charter

by eriposte

UPDATE: At War and Piece, Laura has a link to a post on this issue, from Joe Klein at Time. Klein makes some valid points but his post is, in my view, incorrect in two places. My responses on those points are at the bottom of this post.

Laura Rozen has a scoop at The Cable: "India’s stealth lobbying against Holbrooke's brief ". It's worth reading in full, but here is a key excerpt (emphasis mine, throughout this post):

When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- flanked by President Obama -- introduced Richard Holbrooke as the formidable new U.S. envoy to South Asia at a State Department ceremony on Thursday, India was noticeably absent from his title.

Holbrooke, the veteran negotiator of the Dayton accords and sharp-elbowed foreign policy hand who has long advised Clinton, was officially named "special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan" in what was meant to be one of the signature foreign policy acts of Obama's first week in office.

But the omission of India from his title, and from Clinton's official remarks introducing the new diplomatic push in the region was no accident -- not to mention a sharp departure from Obama's own previously stated approach of engaging India, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan, in a regional dialogue. Multiple sources told The Cable that India vigorously -- and successfully -- lobbied the Obama transition team to make sure that neither India nor Kashmir was included in Holbrooke's official brief.

This is fascinating but not surprising. Laura also notes:

To many Washington South Asia experts, the decision to not include India or Kashmir in the official Terms of Reference of Holbrooke's mandate was not just appropriate, but absolutely necessary. Given India's fierce, decades-long resistance to any internationalization of the Kashmir dispute, to have done so would have been a non-starter for India, and guaranteed failure before the envoy mission had begun, several suggested.

The observation highlighted in bold is quite true. However, the explanation given to Laura by one of the experts - on why India is insistent on this - is missing some very important historical context which I will provide in this post.

Laura quotes Daniel Markey, a South Asia expert at the Council of Foreign Relations:

The Indians freaked out at talk of Bill Clinton being an envoy to Kashmir," said Daniel Markey, a South Asia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. "The reason they were so worried is they don't want their activities in Kashmir to be equated with what Pakistan is doing in Afghanistan."

"They [India] are the big fish [in the region]," Markey added. "They don't want to be grouped with the 'problem children' in the region, on Kashmir, on nuclear issues. They have a fairly effective lobbying machine. They have taken a lot of notes on the Israel model, and they have gotten better. But you don't want to overstate it. Some of the lobbying effort is obvious, done through companies, but a lot of it is direct government to government contact, people talking to each other. The Indian government and those around the Indian government made clear through a variety of channels because of the Clinton rumors and they came out to quickly shoot that down."

This explanation is partly correct - India certainly does not want to be equated in any way with Pakistan. However, a critical reason for India's position - namely, its extraordinary sensitivity to any international exposure or intervention (especially on Kashmir) - traces back to the Indian post-independence period in 1947-1948 when the Kashmir issue first came to the fore. I will write about that period and the origins of the Kashmir issue in more detail in future posts, but the crux of the issue was that India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru made a decision in January 1948 to take the Kashmir issue to the United Nations and the result was pretty much a disaster for India due to the overt bias of the British towards Pakistan and India's poor performance in articulating its pretty reasonable position on Kashmir at the time. The result of the effort convinced many Indians for a long time that the world's powers would not approach the Kashmir issue with objectivity and would be biased unfairly towards Pakistan - a perception that was fueled considerably by the United States' long-standing support for Pakistan through the Cold War period and continued reference to Pakistan as an "ally" even after 9/11.

To understand what happened at the UN in 1948, let me quote a relevant extract from Guha's book "India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy" (pages 72-73):

On 1 January 1948 India decided to take the Kashmir issue to the United Nations. This was done on the advice of the governor general, Lord Mountbatten. Since Kashmir had acceded to [India], India wanted the UN to help clear the northern parts of what it said was an illegal occupation by groups loyal to Pakistan [Eriposte note: This refers to the invasion of Jammu and Kashmir in 1947, initially by Pakistani militant groups mostly from the North-West Frontier of Pakistan]. 47

Through January and February the Security Council held several sittings on Kashmir. Pakistan, represented by the superbly gifted orator Sir Zafrullah Khan, was able to present a far better case than India. Khan convinced the delegates that the invasion was a consequence of the tragic riots across northern India in 1946-7 [....] The Kashmir problem was recast as part of the unfinished business of Partition. India suffered a significant symbolic defeat when the Security Council altered the agenda item from the 'Jammu and Kashmir Question' to the 'India-Pakistan Question'.

Pakistan now suggested the withdrawal of all armed forces in the state, and the holding of a plebiscite under an 'impartial interim administration'. Ironically, Pakistan had rejected the idea of a plebiscite in the case of [the Princely State of] Junagadh. [Pakistani President Muhammad Ali] Jinnah's position then was that the will of the ruler would decide which dominion a princely state would join. India instead referred the matter to the will of the people. Having done this in Junagadh, they could not now so easily duck the question in Kashmir. However, the Indian government insisted a plebiscite could be conducted under a National Conference administration whose leader, Sheikh Abdullah, was the 'most popular political leader in the State'. 48

So said the Sheikh himself, when he spoke at the United Nations on 5 February 1948. His language, recalled one observer, 'was blunt, direct, and devoid of diplomatic language'. [...]

A striking feature of the UN discussions on Kashmir was the partisanship of the British. Their representative, Philip Noel-Baker, vigorously supported the Pakistani position. The British bias was deeply resented by the Indians. Some saw it as a hangover from pre-Independence days, a conversion for support to the Muslim League to support for Pakistan. Others thought it was in compensation for the recent creation of the state of Israel, after which there was a need to placate Muslims worldwide. A third theory was that in the ensuing struggle with Soviet Russia, Pakistan would be the more reliable ally. It was also better placed, with easy access to British air bases in the Middle East. 50


By now, Nehru bitterly regretted going to the United Nations. He was shocked, he told Mountbatten, to find that 'power politics and not ethics' were ruling an organization which 'was being completely run by the Americans', who, like the British, 'had made no bones of [their] sympathy for the Pakistan case'. 52

So, there you have it. India's lobbying today is not just based on recent events from the last decade or so. It goes back to deep historical wounds and skepticism about the motivations of the great powers. Personally, I think it was a wise decision by Secretary Clinton (and President Obama) to not include "India" in the formal charter of envoy Richard Holbrooke. It will make Holbrooke more likely to be successful as a result.

UPDATE: Joe Klein at Time has a post at Swampland discussing Laura's scoop. He makes some reasonable points, but errs in saying the following:

There was ultimate good strategic sense behind Obama's thinking: Kashmir is at the heart of Pakistan's support for various Islamic extremist groups, including the  Afghan Taliban. It was the original "k" in the acronym that accounts for Pakistan's name (the "P" stood for Punjab and the "A" for the Afghan-border northwest tribal areas), but was grabbed by India in a dodgy bit of business during the partition mayhem of 1947. As far as the Indians are concerned, there's nothing to negotiate. ADD: Reader pneogy offers this Stimson Center link for Kashmir background.

First, I should clarify the origin of the name Pakistan. Let me quote Patwant Singh from his book "The Sikhs" (pages 190-191):

Matters came to a head during the [Muslim] League's Lahore session in March 1940, and its demand for a Muslim state - Pakistan. The name "Pakistan," coined from the first letters of Punjab, Afghanistan, Kashmir and Sind, and "tan" from Baluchistan, had an ominous ring for the Sikhs since their homeland lay at the heart of the state the League now aspired to.

It should be noted that all of these states had large populations of Muslims but some of them also had significant populations of Hindus and Sikhs (especially in the Punjab). Unless one believes that states must be formed purely on the basis of religious majorities (which I happen to disagree with), there is no reason to assume that Pakistan somehow had some inherent right over Kashmir - it never did.

The more substantive argument I have with Klein's comment is that India did not "grab" Kashmir in "a dodgy bit of business during the partition mayhem of 1947". As I explained above, the ruler of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir - who had wanted to stay independent from both India and Pakistan - decided to join the Indian Union in 1947 after his state was invaded by hostile Pakistani militants. I will go into this in depth in another post but calling this a "grab" by India is very misleading to say the least. One could legitimately argue about the merits of the Kashmiri accession to India but it wasn't "dodgy". (If anything, as I pointed out above, Pakistan insisted that India should respect the decision of the ruler of the princely state of Junagadh when it came to whether or not Junagadh would join India or Pakistan after Partition).

Second, Klein says:

And it demonstrates just how difficult Holbrooke's brief is going to be: Obama was caught in the public commission of a truth--for Afghanistan to settle down on a long-term basis, Pakistan is going to have to turn away from sponsoring Islamic extremist groups...which won't happen until there is some resolution of the historic Kashmir mess

This claim does not state, but implies, that Pakistan has no choice but to support Islamic extremists until the Kashmir issue is resolved. This is really not the case. There are solutions to Kashmir that don't require any funding of Islamic extremists. For example, right after Partition and even just prior to Nehru's death in 1964, there was a path to a peaceful solution advanced by India.

eriposte :: 9:32 AM :: Comments (4) :: Digg It!