December 10, 2009

Bad Medicine

At first Pakistani President Asif Zardari appeared to have done President Obama a favor. In an op-ed for the New York Times, Zardari praised Obama for his policies and inspiration while outlining a positive relationship for the future.

Zardari earns a few points for confronting a hostile American public, which he mentions directly. Though he isn’t popular at home or in Washington unless he’s saying “yes,” Zardari has stepped out of his shell at a dangerous time.

President Obama, after his speech at West Point, has once again vanished, leaving a trail of generals and White House officials to fight over the definition of his strategy. Zardari is attempting to seize perceptions and clarify a few ambiguities, something he thinks Obama should do too.

But it quickly became clear that Zardari’s gift was more of a curse.
“We are not looking for — and indeed reject — dependency. We don’t need or want (nor would we accept) foreign troops to defeat the insurgency, and we seek trade more than aid from you in the future. It is an economically viable and socially robust democratic Pakistan that will be the most effective long-term weapon against terrorism, extremism and fanaticism. This is the necessary endgame."
His advice boils down to two points: trade and Kashmir. Trade is its own arena and nothing seems to inhibit growth, besides China. But of the two, Zardari lifted Kashmir on a higher pedestal - and put Obama in a corner.
“Although we certainly appreciate America’s $7.5 billion pledge over the next five years for nonmilitary projects in Pakistan, this long-term commitment must be complemented by short-term policies that demonstrate American neutrality and willingness to help India and Pakistan overcome their mutual distrust. It could start by stepping up its efforts to mediate the Kashmir dispute.”
And the balloon pops.

Obama briefly mentioned Kashmir on November 3rd, 2008, reversed course and dropped Kashmir from “AfPak,” then disappeared. Officials are indeed working behind the scenes, but as Zardari explains, Pakistan needs public support from America.

The hard reality is this that India won’t let go of Kashmir. If the territory is ever to be divvied up or granted independence, someone will have to first take it away from India. America is the only conceivable option, unlikely as it is, either individually or by leading the international effort.

But hard reality breeds hard questions. Most Pakistani officials - Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, Army Chief Kayani - have pinpointed Kashmir as the region’s epicenter of extremism. India is surely aware of the problems created by the dispute.

So why, if resolving Kashmir’s status is worth more than any amount of US troops in Afghanistan, are 30,000 troops being deployed while negotiations are being ignored?
“Just as the Israeli-Palestinian dispute cannot be resolved without accommodating the Palestinian people, there cannot be permanent regional peace in South Asia without addressing Kashmir. It would be helpful if the United States, at some point, would scrutinize India in a similar fashion and acknowledge that it has from time to time played a destabilizing role in the region.”
“Scrutinize” and “India” aren’t words that usually meet in American diplomacy. Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Mullen reportedly acknowledged Indian arms while speaking with Kayani and said he would raise the issue with India, but whatever happens here will surely be done out of our range.

Again, Pakistan’s use for private diplomacy has run out.

Unfortunately President Obama is unlikely to give a major policy speech on Kashmir just as he did Palestine, even though the two situations are no different in magnitude. India easily surpasses Israel in real power and Kashmir has less of an international profile than Palestine. Yet staying silent would still a mistake.

America can afford to stay soft on Israel while Hamas poses no national threat security. Kashmir is the opposite, feeding LeT, JeM, the Taliban, and thus al-Qaeda. We aren't even saying this, Pentagon officials are connecting these groups.

Zardari’s advice is bad medicine, but Obama needs it for Afghanistan.

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