July 18, 2009

Three to Tango

Fewer peace agreements would be signed if Sharm el-Sheikh wasn’t so beautiful, but the city doubles as a diplomatic conference hall for good reason. Some of its charm rubbed off on India and Pakistan, who used the sidelines of the annual Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) conference to resume their dialogue after Mumbai interrupted.

India and Pakistan will likely go tête-à-tête like they always have, but outside assistance could prove beneficial. President Obama must have thought so when he allegedly considered Bill Clinton as special envoy to Kashmir. But India, on the short list of states that can order America around, immediately objected.

After expressing his desire during the election to resolve Kashmir's discord, Obama reversed position and stated last month, “we want to be helpful in that process, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to be the mediators in that process. I think that this is something that the Pakistanis and Indians can take leadership on.”

Weeks before he had left Kashmir out of his Cairo speech, yet there seems to be no difference between Kashmir and Palestine, where Obama dispatched George Mitchell to. And did Obama notice Pakistan has a leadership crisis?

Staying out of Indian-Pakistani relations would only be wise if America began on the outside, but it’s already deep inside all areas of South Asia. During the NAM conference, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen met with Pakistani COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and reportedly encouraged him to continue total war against the Taliban.

America has done some “dictating,” as Obama called it, to Pakistan so why not pressure India? American-Pakistani relations and Indian-Pakistani relations may have been separate entities before, but they’re converging now.

“We believe durable peace in South Asia is achievable,” Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani said after meeting with Manmohan Singh, India’s Prime Minister. “It will be facilitated by the resolution of all standing disputes, including Jammu and Kashmir. The peace dividend for 1.5 billion people in the region would be enormous.”

Officials publicly deny that America has any influence on the dialogue. Robert Blake, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, reinforced neutrality by telling reporters, “I can assure you we are not going to appoint a special Kashmir envoy. This is long-standing US policy that this is an issue that needs to be worked between India and Pakistan, and we do not have plans to appoint an envoy.”

Because of Indian opposition. And when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, due to land in Mumbai soon, was asked whether America had pressured India to negotiate with Pakistan, she replied, "No, not at all." The Times of India fortunately claims otherwise.

Gilani and Obama both believe that bringing peace to Kashmir would have dramatic effects in Afghanistan which justifies American involvement. National Security Adviser James Jones thought so when he told Gilani during a recent visit to Pakistan, “The U.S. government would help in every possible way for the resumption of dialogue between Pakistan and India and for resolution of the core issues.”

Jihad in Kashmir affects America’s national security. India and Pakistan need help navigating a peace process that has tripped them up for decades and America is the most plausible mediator if one is required. Obama officials are working behind the scenes, an encouraging sign, so it doesn’t matter if they say otherwise. They can facilitate negotiations with the right touch.

A weakened Pakistan is no match for India one on one. India holds the leverage: a richer economy, possession of Kashmir and its water sources, influence in Afghanistan, and Mumbai terrorism. Singh told reporters after meeting Gilani, "So long as Pakistani territory continues to be used for perpetrating acts of terrorism directed against India, I think the dialogue process even if it starts cannot move forward."

Pakistan needs America’s soft power, what Secretary Clinton so often speaks of developing, to tone down India's circular coupling of terrorism to negotiations. India spawns that terror by suppressing Kashmiris.

The risk of alienating India shouldn’t be valued above alienating Pakistan. Pakistan did almost everything America demanded after 9/11 and no state has suffered more from the pursuit of al-Qaeda, including America itself. Over 5,000 civilians have been killed since 2004 alone. India is an emerging superpower while Pakistan is battling for its sovereignty, and Obama is losing popularity because of his perceived Indian bias.

Pakistanis don’t think he’s being fair, they think he ditched them.

American officials claims Pakistan needs all the help it can get or the Taliban could march on Islamabad. Keeping negotiations balanced is crucial to resolving Kashmir and Obama shouldn’t hesitate to dance. The payoff in Afghanistan and Pakistan could outweigh any amount of American blood and treasure.


  1. Your article suggests that Obama has an active pro India policy. Ask almost any Indian and they beg to differ where he is perceived as being extremely pro Pakistan. His policy towards India is of benign neglect while doing everything to diminish India's economic progress.

  2. Agreed, Indians do perceive Obama as pro-Pakistan or anti-Indian as he tries to mold India into an example for China on emissions. This doesn't negate the fact that Pakistanis view him as pro-Indian because of the nuclear issue and Kashmir. The silent conclusion is that, despite good intentions, Obama is alienating both peoples.