Will Obama’s Afghan plans survive Kashmir crisis?

August 15, 2008

Senator Barack Obama/Hugh GentryLess than a month ago, Senator Barack Obama was saying  that the U.S. war in Afghanistan would be made easier if the United States worked to improve trust between India and Pakistan. “A lot of what drives, it appears, motivations on the Pakistan side of the border, still has to do with their concerns and suspicions about India,” he told a news conference in Amman.

The logic was in line with thinking expounded by U.S. analysts at the time who argued that elements within Pakistan will never completely relinquish support for Islamist militants in both Pakistan and Afghanistan as long as they believe they can be used to counter Indian influence in the region. Therefore end Pakistan’s insecurity about India, and support for militants will melt away, making the U.S. campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban much easier — or so the argument goes.  At least that was the thinking barely a few weeks ago, as I wrote in an earlier blog on this subject

Kashmiri Muslim protester/Fayaz KabliThe latest crisis in Kashmir has turned that logic on its head.  After a dispute over land snowballed into some of the biggest protests since a separatist revolt erupted in 1989, India and Pakistan are back at each other’s throats, hurling allegations at each other.  Rather than asking whether the two countries can be persuaded to make a durable peace, the question now is how bad the relationship can get. “India-Pakistan relations are getting perilously close to ground zero,” writes former Indian diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar in an Asia Times article.

Add in the domestic political instability in Pakistan, and relations between India and Pakistan have probably not been so combustible since they declared a ceasefire on the Line of Control dividing Kashmir in November 2003.

So where does that leave Obama’s plans for Afghanistan? How much does it assume U.S. efforts to “manage” Pakistan more effectively — including encouraging peace with India — will combine with his pledge to send more troops to Afghanistan to succeed in a campaign he has declared more important that Iraq? The blog New America Media went as far as to say that “Kashmir may be the key to Obama’s Counterterrorism Policy” – perhaps overstating the case but well worth reading to see how it all fits together.

And if India and Pakistan descend into the dark days before the 2003 ceasefire, and play out their rivalry across the region from Kashmir to Kabul, what is the fall-back plan? Sending even more U.S. troops to Afghanistan?



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