Tuesday :: Jan 27, 2009

The Holbrooke Charter - Talking of Carrots and Sticks

by eriposte

Laura Rozen has a follow-up post at The Cable - "India's Special Envoy Anxiety - Part II" - on the story behind Richard Holbrooke's designation (i.e., "India" being formally left off from it). She tries to make sense of the denials from the Obama transition team (about lobbying by India) that don't appear to gel with the facts and wonders whether the Obama team is just being "overly sensitive to the perception they were lobbied". That is quite possible. My interest in this topic, though, happens to be the underlying reasons for India's lobbying.

In my original post on this issue I called out the fact that a fundamental reason for Indian sensitivity is a historic one - namely, the belief that the world's powers (especially the U.S.) 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. In the same post, and a follow-up post, I also discussed a belief that is not uncommon amongst Western observers on the Kashmir issue, namely, that it is difficult for Pakistan to stop its support for militants/terrorists in India until the Kashmir issue is resolved to its satisfaction. Now, if someone were to make the argument that Pakistan might not be able to satisfy the religious extremists in its midst, and thereby risk internal instability, without fomenting violence in Kashmir, then that is a point worth discussing - even though I don't necessarily accept this premise. However, in my experience, the aforementioned belief is sometimes based on two fundamentally wrong assumptions  regarding the Kashmir issue, namely that:

(a) Pakistan had/has some inherent right over Kashmir (it never did - nor did India), and

(b) The religious arguments underlying (a) makes Pakistan-supported violence unavoidable in the quest for a solution to the Kashmir problem (in view of India's position on Kashmir)

I plan to discuss these wrong assumptions - and why I label them wrong - in future posts, but for now, it is important to point out that these assumptions sometimes end up biasing the view of Western observers on Kashmir. It is precisely that bias, in my opinion, that annoys many Indian elites and makes them skeptical about Western intentions vis-a-vis Kashmir.

Let's tie this all back to India's lobbying on Holbrooke. In her original post, Laura Rozen quoted Daniel Markey, a South Asia expert at the Council of Foreign Relations (emphasis mine, throughout this post):

...."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. 

I pointed out previously that this is partly correct but it omitted some deep historical context. What I didn't point out was that separate from the historical context, Markey's statement, with due respect, is also a somewhat superficial view of Indian sentiment. The more substantive issue is that India will simply not accept the premise that to solve the problem of militancy and terrorism in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province that is destabilizing Afghanistan, one has to somehow "address the Kashmir problem" in a manner favorable to Pakistan, as a way of appeasing Pakistan. To India, this sounds like a repeat of the last six decades and is a key driving force behind India's current position. In fact, this view was articulated pretty well back on Jan 10 by Indrani Dasgupta in The Times of India, where she also stated pretty definitively that "India" would be left out of Holbrooke's formal designation - well before Holbrooke was even appointed:

The possible appointment of Richard Holbrooke as special envoy for Pakistan-Afghanistan is not a surprise and the incoming Barack Obama administration has acknowledged India's sensitivity to the issue by removing India from his "beat". This is an "evolution" from the time Obama declared he wanted to send former president Bill Clinton to "do" Kashmir. 

In fact, the ongoing visit by US vice-president elect Joe Biden to Pakistan — but not to India — to get a first-hand view of the situation is also intended to emphasise the different trajectories Obama says he wants to pursue in this region. 

So far so good. Difficulties will arise with India because Obama believes that the path to a peaceful Afghanistan runs through a Kashmir "resolution". As the US gets more involved in disentangling Pakistan and Afghanistan from terrorism, Taliban and al-Qaida, it will be tempting for Democrats to push a "Kashmir solution" as a carrot for Pakistan to undertake tough policies on its northwestern border. 

This was Obama's dangerous misreading of the terrorism problem here, as he saw it. "I will join with our allies in insisting, not simply requesting, that Pakistan crack down on the Taliban, pursue Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, and end its relationship with all terrorist groups. At the same time, I will encourage dialogue between Pakistan and India to work towards resolving their dispute over Kashmir and between Afghanistan and Pakistan to resolve their differences and develop the Pashtun border region. If Pakistan can look towards the east (India) with confidence, it will be less likely to believe its interests are best advanced through cooperation with the Taliban," he said in an article in Foreign Affairs. 

Pakistan would run with this thinking and Pakistani analysts like Ahmed Rashid have already planted this thought in many heads. 

India will need to draw clear red lines with the incoming administration that Pakistan's terrorism problem has to do with it seeking "strategic depth" against India and an old policy to "bleed India with a thousand cuts". 

The Obama administration will have to be walked back from what India will say is a dangerous starting point. India will say this would be tantamount to rewarding Pakistan's use of terrorism in its foreign policy. 

It is hard to overstate the fact that underlying this Indian view is several decades of history, where India repeatedly saw political realities - first for the U.K. and then the U.S. - overshadowing what it believes are Pakistan's intransigent actions in Kashmir. Therefore, it is important that the Obama administration carefully avoid advancing ideas that seem to Indians like a repeat of the last six decades.

eriposte :: 7:11 AM :: Comments (1) :: Digg It!