Will Obama refer to Kashmir in public in India?
Will President Barack Obama make some public remarks on Kashmir during his trip to India next month?
At a White House press briefing, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes refused to be pinned down on specifics, beyond saying that the United States would continue to express support for India and Pakistan to pursue talks.
“I wouldn’t — I don’t want to get into prefacing with precision what his comments are, in part because he’ll be answering a lot of questions there in the town hall and press conference and we haven’t — we’re still working through his remarks on certain things,” he said.
Yet it is a question that cannot — and will not — be left to chance.
Indian is deeply sensitive about foreign visitors talking about Kashmir — as British foreign ministers have learned to their cost on earlier trips. It regards Kashmir as an integral part of India and refuses even to recognise the territory at the heart of more than 60 years of enmity with Pakistan as disputed. Moreover, it has consistently rejected outside interference, saying that its disputes with Pakistan must be settled bilaterally.
Obama, who raised hackles in India during his presidential election campaign by suggesting the Washington should try to help resolve the Kashmir dispute, is hoping to use the trip to help U.S. business tap into India’s growing economy. With a flagging economy at home, he cannot afford to offend his hosts.
But at the same time, the biggest foreign policy challenge of his administration is over how to deal with Afghanistan and Pakistan. The war in Afghanistan cannot be ended without Pakistan’s help. And Pakistan itself faces serious instability — potentially a much bigger worry than Afghanistan with its 180 million people and nuclear bombs. Pakistan’s identity in turn is intimately bound up with India – its past support for Islamist militants was driven by its belief that this was the only way to neutralise the influence of its much bigger neighbour both in Kashmir and in Afghanistan. Depending on who you listen to, it either will not, or can not, tackle Islamist militants based in Pakistan without a peace settlement with India, including on Kashmir.