WASHINGTON: President-elect Barack Obama has made his first big foreign-policy mistake-pledging U.S. intervention in the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. While the Kashmir issue “is obviously a tar pit diplomatically,” he announced, one of the “critical tasks” for his administration will be “to get a special envoy in there to figure out a plausible approach.” Mr. Obama not only will confront bitter opposition to U.S. intervention from India, which occupies the prized Kashmir Valley, but also will face resistance from Pakistan’s new president, Asif Ali Zardari.
The rationale for intervention is that fear of India requires Pakistan to strengthen its western front in Afghanistan by supporting the Taliban. But the reason for Pakistani support of the Taliban and jihadi forces in Kashmir is that its military and intelligence agencies are riddled with Islamists.
By questioning Indian control of the Kashmir Valley, the United States would strengthen jihadi forces in both Islamabad and Srinagar, the capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. More importantly, it would undermine improving U.S.-India relations. What Washington should do instead is support Mr. Zardari’s strategy for peace with India.
In the months before the Mumbai terrorist attacks in November, Mr. Zardari launched promising negotiations on trade and economic cooperation with New Delhi. Now he wants Washington to push for a resumption of the dialogue. Hard-liners and jihadi leaders in Islamabad who are opposed to Mr. Zardari have been outraged by his repeated statements that Kashmir should be set aside, just as India and China temporarily shelved their border dispute so as to pursue economic ties.
The appointment of a high-level regional envoy in South Asia to promote cooperation among India, Pakistan and Afghanistan in combating al Qaeda and its allies would be desirable in the aftermath of Mumbai. But Kashmir indeed would be a tar pit for such an envoy. A U.S. Kashmir initiative, however veiled, would poison relations between New Delhi and Washington.
As previous presidents who have toyed with intervention, Mr. Obama will learn, if he persists, that Kashmir is not a territorial issue. India argues that its retention of a Muslim-majority Kashmir is necessary to preserve India’s character as a secular state in which 160 million Muslims coexist uneasily with a Hindu majority. Conversely, until Mr. Zardari became president, Pakistan gave Kashmir top priority to vindicate its creation as an Islamic state and its rejection of secularism.-SANA