The man who will be inaugurated 44th President of the United States on January 20 has certain ideas on Kashmir that have raised concerns in India’s official and political establishment — and enthused separatist elements in Jammu & Kashmir. These ideas, which go back some way, were detailed in an October 2008 interview to Time magazine and touched upon during a December 5 interview to the same publication. Winning the war in Afghanistan, w hich increasingly looks like a pipe dream, is one of Barack Obama’s top priorities. Somewhat naively, he approaches Pakistan-India relations and the Kashmir dispute through the prism of “managing a more effective strategy in Afghanistan.” That, in his view, calls for a viable strategy with Pakistan’s civilian government, its military, and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to “root out militant terrorists.” And this brings Mr. Obama to the idea of “working with Pakistan and India to try to resolve the Kashmir crisis in a serious way.” Despite recognising Kashmir as “a potential tar pit diplomatically,” Mr. Obama has gone on record favouring mediatory intervention between India and Pakistan through a high-powered special envoy.
These ideas may be unwelcome in New Delhi but there is no cause for alarm, assuming of course that official India can work out a clear and resolute strategy of dealing with the Kashmir issue in its external and internal dimensions. In particular, there is no need to get hot under the collar over the prospect of any return to hyphenation. India must be clear and resolute that the only way to resolve the Kashmir issue in its external dimension along with other key issues is through comprehensive bilateral talks with Pakistan. It must act on the realisation that Mr. Obama’s principal focus for quite a while will be on the economy. But as soon as the opportunity arises, New Delhi must disabuse the new administration of any notion that the Kashmir issue can be approached in the way Mr. Obama has proposed. The U.S. cannot possibly mediate between Pakistan and India on Kashmir or other critical issues unless New Delhi allows it to do so. India-Pakistan relations are in crisis. But it must be hoped that sooner than later, a sustainable solution will be found through political and diplomatic means to the issue of cross-border terrorism so that the two countries can resume their composite dialogue and get back on the cooperative track. Mr. Obama is welcome to take on the political challenge of pressuring and encouraging Islamabad to deliver on its anti-terrorism commitments on the Afghan as well as Indian fronts. But internationalisation of the Kashmir issue through Washington’s intervention must be ruled out of court.