President Obama has many real crises that he must handle. Kashmir is not one of them.
So Barack Obama waited until the very last stage of the campaign before actually revealing what exactly he had in mind when he said he wanted to “facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis”. He meant that the United States would appoint a “special envoy”—that unhappy graveyard of diplomacy, given their record of failure—to “figure out a plausible approach”.
…and essentially make the argument to the Indians, you guys are on the brink of being an economic superpower, why do you want to keep on messing with this? To make the argument to the Pakistanis, look at India and what they are doing, why do you want to keep n being bogged down with this particularly at a time where the biggest threat now is coming from the Afghan boarder? I think there is a moment where potentially we could get their attention. It won’t be easy, but it’s important.
Q. Sounds like a job for Bill Clinton.
A. Might not be bad. I actually talked to Bill, I talked to President Clinton about this when we had lunch in Harlem. [Joe Klein/Swampland/TIME]
If the good Indian-Americans at USINPAC had heard that before—and Mr Obama’s campaign probably made sure they didn’t—they might have had something different to say. That apart, what Kashmir crisis? In a world that’s not short of events that fit that description, Kashmir—even after this summer’s incidents—is not in crisis. So Mr Obama would do well to “devote serious diplomatic resources” to places where there really is a crisis. Like the geographical region to the West of the India-Pakistan border. The special envoy could walk any distance westwards from the Line of Control and find any number of crises that he needs to solve rather urgently.
In fact, for a platform that emphasises change, Mr Obama’s ‘Kashmir thesis’ is a remix of an old idea that didn’t ever work. [See these older posts] In the current geopolitical and geoeconomic situation, it’s even less likely to work. In fact, the special envoy might be told that “you guys are on the brink of not being an superpower, why do you want to keep on messing with this?”
But the Indian reaction can be more sophisticated. New Delhi could welcome a special envoy and have meetings with him in exotic locations around the subcontinent. (Clocking frequent flier miles comes with the job of being a special envoy). In the best case, it won’t achieve much beyond what is already taking place bilaterally between India and Pakistan. What is more likely though, is that it will create false hopes among sundry separatists and delay Kashmir’s return to normalcy.
If Mr Obama really wants change, he’d do well to tell the Pakistanis to stop worrying about the wishes of the Kashmiri people and start worrying about their own. He doesn’t actually have to tell them, though, because that’s what they are doing these days anyway.
The business of attempting to increase America’s popularity in Pakistan by getting involved in solving Kashmir has run its course. Getting involved in the Kashmir dispute is unlikely to assuage Pakistani opinion as long as the US continues to carry out attacks in Pakistan. But Mr Obama must realise that if the United States does not try to keep India on its side in Afghanistan, it’ll have no one left. That’s something that the Indian government must impress on America’s new president at the very outset.
Update:Mint’s Samanth Subramanian quotes from this post as he looks for the pulse of the Indian blogosphere.