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Obama must try seal a Kashmir deal during India visit: Riedel

September 29
03:56 2010

Bruce Riedel

WASHINGTON: When US President Barack Obama visits India in November he must secure a deal on Kashmir, which has the potential to spark off another Indo-Pak confrontation, a former top CIA official has said.

Bruce Riedel, senior fellow, foreign policy at the Brookings Institute wrote in an article that Obama’s challenge would be to quietly help Islamabad and New Delhi work behind the scenes to get back to the deal negotiated between former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

“Just as the war in Afghanistan is getting bloodier and Pakistan is drowning in floods, a new (yet old) battlefield is heating up in Kashmir. President Obama’s strategy for dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan always needed a Kashmir component to succeed, that need is becoming more urgent and obvious now. His trip to India in November will be a key to addressing it,” he wrote.

Posted on the website of Brookings Institute, a Washington-based think-tank, Riedel’s article, however, said that an independent Kashmir is not in the offing as neither India nor Pakistan would ever accept that outcome.

For the US, Riedel said, reducing and resolving the India-Pakistan Cold War before it goes hot is critical to stability in South Asia, isolating the jihadi extremists and preventing a war in South Asia that could go nuclear.

The recent unrest in Kashmir “makes it imperative to get back to the back channel and finish the talks,” he said.

“Pakistan has been trying to annex Kashmir since the hour it was born in 1947 and has long and established ties to many terrorist groups operating in the province like Lashkar-e -Tayyiba, the group that attacked Mumbai in 2008. India is determined to hold on to the part of Kashmir it won in the 1947-48 war at all costs,” he said.

Referring to the recent unrest in the Kashmir Valley and the widescale protests witnessed there since June, he suggested that the reported solution reached between Musharraf and Singh after four years of back channel diplomacy could be the most viable one.

Riedel wrote accepting the “ceasefire line” or the LoC as the international border, and make it a “permeable” or porous border for Kashmiris, could be the viable solution.

“(Kashmiris) could move back and forth easily. Both countries’ currencies would be valid on both sides of the line. The two parts of Kashmir… would handle local issues like tourism, sports, and the environment in joint shared institutions along the lines of how Ireland and Ulster work together now on all Northern Ireland issues,” he said.

Riedel, however, noted that it was not yet clear whether the Pakistan government would be able to bring the powerful military chief on board for a deal, and noted that President Asif Zardari probably “is too weak to go alone”.

He (Zardari) needs the Pakistani army on board, and it is unclear if the army chief, General Kayani, Musharraf’s intelligence chief during the old talks, is on board. It will take strong and brave leadership to get a deal, but it is critical to defeating the jihadist Frankenstein that now terrorizes Pakistan itself,” Riedel wrote.

He said

Obama’s challenge is “to quietly help Islamabad and New Delhi work behind the scenes to get back to the deal Musharraf and Singh negotiated”.

“A deal is good for America, India, Pakistan, and especially the Kashmiris, who have suffered enough,” he added.

Pointing out that the fresh Kashmir unrest has put the issue back on the front burner, he said Obama will have a chance “to work this subtly when he visits India in November”.

“If left to itself, the Pakistani army will be tempted to intervene in Kashmir again to help the until now largely indigenous revolt, running the risk of another Indo-Pakistani confrontation,” Riedel wrote.

He also said that India is “understandably averse” to American meddling in its internal affairs and cited New Delhi’s strong objection to reports that Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy on Af-Pak would also have a mandate on Kashmir.

-PTI

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