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from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

On India-Pakistan thaw and the changing Afghan dynamics

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siachensaluteThere is a time and a place for everything and back in the days of the Obama election campaign the idea that progress on the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan could help turn around the flagging military campaign in Afghanistan looked plausible. The argument, much touted by Washington think-tankers, was that Pakistan would not turn against Afghan Taliban militants on its western border as long as it believed it might need to use them to counter India's growing influence in Afghanistan, and as long as it felt the need to keep the bulk of its army on its eastern border with India.

Even in the middle of last year, when Pakistan and India made an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to revive peace talks which had been frozen since the attack on Mumbai at the end of 2008, the possibility of a "grand bargain" from Kashmir to Kabul still carried some resonance.

But time has moved on, so it is a little bit strange to see these arguments resurfacing now after India proposed to resume talks with Pakistan.  (See Newsweek's "Kashmir is the key to peace in Afghanistan" or the op-ed by David Ignatius in the Washington Post)

As I wrote in this analysis, a thaw in relations between India and Pakistan would be too little, too late to achieve results in time for Washington's 2011 deadline for drawing down troops in Afghanistan. Real progress on Kashmir would require them to get back to a roadmap for peace sketched out between India and Pakistan in 2007 under former president Pervez Musharraf. But Pakistan, whose vulnerability to attacks by Islamist militants has been demonstrated in a spate of gun and bomb attacks over the past year, probably no longer has the political space to offer the kind of concessions Musharraf made to get there without risking a backlash at home. And while the roadmap provided a framework for further negotiations on Kashmir, a lot of ground had yet to be covered to translate that into a real agreement; even if indeed it would ever have worked.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Kashmir gunbattle underscores India-Pakistan tensions

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srinagar hotelA nearly 24-hour gunbattle this week between militants and Indian security forces in the centre of Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, is a powerful reminder of the tensions in the region at the heart of enmity between India and Pakistan. Two people were killed along with the two militants -  one of whom was described by police as a Pakistani - in the biggest attack in Srinagar in two years.  Hundreds of people, who had become accustomed to relative calm after years of separatist violence, had to be rescued from nearby buildings.

The attack itself might or might not turn out to be an isolated incident.  But what is troubling is that it took place within the context of a deterioration in relations between India and Pakistan.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Can China help stabilise Pakistan?

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forbidden cityWhen President Barack Obama suggested in Beijing last month that China and the United States could cooperate on bringing stability to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and indeed to "all of South Asia", much of the attention was diverted to India, where the media saw it as inviting unwarranted Chinese interference in the region.

But what about asking a different question? Can China help stabilise the region?

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India, Pakistan and Afghanistan: the impossible triangle

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A single paragraph in General Stanley McChrystal's leaked assessment of the war in Afghanistan has generated much interest, particularly in Pakistan.

"Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan, including significant development efforts and financial investment," it says. "In addition the current Afghan government is perceived by Islamabad to be pro-Indian. While Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people, increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani counter-measures in Afghanistan or India."

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India and Pakistan: looking beyond the rhetoric

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With so much noise around these days in the relationship between India and Pakistan it is hard to make out a clear trend.  Politicians and national media in both countries have reverted to trading accusations, whether it be about their nuclear arsenals, Pakistani action against Islamist militants blamed for last year's Mumbai attacks or alleged violations of a ceasefire on the Line of Control dividing Kashmir. Scan the headlines on a Google news search on India and Pakistan and you get the impression of a relationship fraught beyond repair.

Does that mean that attempts to find a way back into peace talks broken off after the Mumbai attacks are going nowhere? Not necessarily. In the past the background noise of angry rhetoric has usually obscured real progress behind the scenes, and this time around may be no exception.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan and India: Signposts in the Sinai

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Even before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Asif Ali Zardari broke the ice by meeting on the sidelines of a regional summit in Yekaterinburg, Russia last month, the real question over talks between India and Pakistan has not been about the form but the substance.

After the bitterness of last year's attacks on Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants, can India and Pakistan work their way back to a roadmap for an agreement on Kashmir reached two years ago? Although never finalised, the roadmap opened up the intellectual space for an eventual peace deal. This week's meetings between India and Pakistan on the sidelines of a Non-Aligned Movement summit in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt could give some clues on whether it has any chance of being  revived.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan renews calls for Kashmir peace deal

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One of the more intriguing reports about Pakistan under former president Pervez Musharraf was that it had come close to a deal with India on Kashmir. The tentative agreement failed to see the light of day after Musharraf became embroiled in a row over the judiciary which eventually forced him to quit. His successor, President Asif Ali Zardari, then renewed calls for peace with India, stressing the economic gains of increased trade ties and even offering to overturn Pakistan's nuclear doctrine by offering to commit to a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons. Then came last November's attack on Mumbai, blamed by India on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, and all talk of peace was off.  India quashed any suggestion a resolution of the Kashmir dispute would help bring peace to South Asia, insisting that linking Kashmir with the Mumbai attacks would reward acts of terrorism.

Three developments this week pushed Kashmir back onto the agenda.

In the Kashmir Valley itself, protests erupted over the alleged rape and murder of two Kashmiri women.  Residents said the women, aged 17 and 22, were abducted, raped and killed by security forces. Indian authorities denied the killing and said the women drowned in a stream.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Obama’s South Asian envoy and the Kashmir conundrum

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Earlier this month, I wrote that the brief given to a South Asian envoy by President Barack Obama could prove to be the first test of the success of Indian diplomacy after the Mumbai attacks. At issue was whether the envoy would be asked to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan or whether the brief would be extended to India, reflecting comments made by Obama during his election campaign that a resolution of the Kashmir dispute would ease tensions across the region.

That question has been resolved - publicly at least -- with the appointment of Richard Holbrooke as Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. No mention of India or Kashmir.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India-U.S: advancing a transformed relationship

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In the space of a decade, the United States and India have travelled far in a relationship clouded by the  Cold War when they were on opposite sides.

From U.S sanctions on India for its nuclear tests in 1998 to a civilian nuclear energy deal that opens access to international nuclear technology and finance, while allowing New Delhi to retain its nuclear weapons programme is a stunning reversal of policy and one that decisively transforms ties.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Obama and his South Asian envoy

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There's much talk about President-elect Barack Obama possibly appointing Richard Holbrooke as a special envoy to South Asia. The New York Times says it's likely; while the Washington Independent says it may be a bit premature to expect final decisions, even before Obama takes office on Jan. 20.

But more interesting perhaps than the name itself will be the brief given to any special envoy for South Asia. Would the focus be on Afghanistan and Pakistan? Or on Pakistan and India? Or all three? The Times of India said India might be removed from the envoy's beat to assuage Indian sensitivities about Kashmir, which it sees as a bilateral issue to be resolved with Pakistan, and which has long resisted any outside mediation. This, the paper said, was an evolution in thinking compared to statements made by Obama during his election campaign about Kashmir.

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