Af-Pak & India
By M Akram Sheikh
During his election campaign, Barack Obama promised to place Afghanistan at the top of his government's foreign policy agenda. After becoming president, he appointed a well-known diplomat as his special envoy for addressing the threat of terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Richard Holbrooke is not known for accepting defeat.
However, given his track record, it is surprising how he has allowed himself the liberty of not taking into account ground realities before devising his approach to achieve his stated targets of building trust with Pakistan. Unless Mr Holbrooke accepts the objective reality that India has no role to play in the achievement of his mission, it may not be possible for him to achieve his goal.
Mr Holbrooke refuses to even mention the Kashmir issue. Firstly, if he is so particular about his mandate, how can he declare India as the leader of South Asia but still be afraid of even mentioning the 'K' word? If he wants to build trust with Pakistanis, why can he not simply come clean about it by publicly saying that 'look I appreciate your concern about the Kashmir issue' but first it is not within my mandate and, then, India is too sensitive about it'. Also, Mr Holbrooke seems to want to keep India on the loop on whatever goes on in his mandate with dealing with Pakistan and Afghanistan – on the pretext that India is Pakistan's neighbour. Why not also inform Iran as well since after all it too is Pakistan's neighbour?
He claims that India has spent one billion dollars in Afghanistan. Instead of appreciating it, Mr Holbrooke should honestly ask himself if this level of spending is for charitable reasons only. Are there no more poor people in India who may be more entitled to Indian compassion? And is there any other country in the whole world that has received as much attention and money from India? What about Bhutan, Burma and Bangladesh? Is it difficult for Mr Holbrooke to accept that the reason for so much spending on the other side of what India perceives to be its number one enemy cannot be bona fide?
The fact is that against the bitter history of Indo-Pak relations, the psyche here is understandably that of 'paranoia of encirclement'. It would be helpful if the US government started to see Pakistani Army's action – or lack of it - against the Afghan Taliban, who may be enjoying the benefit of being perceived by Pakistani establishment as 'the-sole-enemy-of-our-enemy-in-Afghanistan', in the light of its India-related experience and perception.
If America wants to make any sort of headway on Afghanistan and Pakistan, it must first take on board the fact that from Pakistan's standpoint, India is its enemy number 1. India has wanted Pakistan to fail right from the day of its creation. The point is that it doesn't matter if the US agrees with this view or not, the fact simply is that for there to be any progress on Pakistan and Afghanistan, America needs to pay due regard to this issue that Pakistan faces.
Perceptions and fears, no matter how misplaced they may be, play a vital role in achievement of objects and targets. If Indian sensitivities have made Mr Holbrooke forget the 'K' word, if for nothing else then just to be able to achieve his targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr Holbrooke will need to forget the 'I' word as well.
The writer is a senior lawyer,[Courtesy; The News , April 30, 2009 ,By M Akram Sheikh: http://www.thenews.com.pk/arc_news.asp?id=9]