- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2009

When Richard C. Holbrooke arrives in Pakistan this week on a fact-finding mission, he will come under pressure to include India and the contentious Kashmir issue on his agenda, a prospect that India strongly opposes and Washington has since rebuffed.

Mr. Holbrooke, a former ambassador to the United Nations, is traveling to the region in his capacity as President Obama’s envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He also will be making a stop in India. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said one purpose of the visit is “to hear from the Indian government in terms of how we can all better contribute to peace and stability in Afghanistan.”

Initial reports that Mr. Holbrooke’s issues would include “related matters” created unease in India, which interpreted this to mean Kashmir. Indian officials promptly relayed their concerns to Mr. Obama’s team.

Rejecting any attempt to link Kashmir with terrorism in Pakistan’s tribal areas, Indian National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan told an Indian TV channel last week that Mr. Obama would be “barking up the wrong tree” if he were to subscribe to such views.

“References made by President Obama did seem to suggest that there is some kind of a link between the settlement on Pakistan’s western border and the Kashmir issue. Certainly, that had caused concern,” Mr. Narayanan said.

Pakistan is equally determined to put India on Mr. Holbrooke’s plate.

In a recent opinion piece in The Washington Post, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari equated the situation in Kashmir to the Palestinian issue, saying it “must be addressed in some meaningful way to bring stability to this region.”

He said he hoped Mr. Holbrooke would work with both India and Pakistan to resolve the dispute, which has led the two nuclear-armed neighbors to go to war in the past.

The Obama administration has put the Kashmir issue outside Mr. Holbrooke’s portfolio of issues.

“With regard to Kashmir, I think our policy is well-known,” Mr. Wood said. “I think India has some very clear views as to what it wants to do, vis-a-vis dealing with the Kashmir issue, as well as the Pakistanis. But with regard to Ambassador Holbrooke’s mission, as I said, it’s to deal strictly with the Pakistan-Afghanistan situation.”

Mr. Holbrooke declined to comment on the issue before his trip.

At a security conference in Munich on Sunday, Mr. Holbrooke said stabilizing Afghanistan will require a long and difficult struggle.

“It is like no other problem we have confronted, and in my view it’s going to be much tougher than Iraq,” Mr. Holbrooke said.

Mr. Obama has identified Afghanistan as the main front in the “war on terror” and plans to send 30,000 more troops. Complicating the challenge, Pakistan officials have lost control over large parts of their country to the Taliban, which is using Pakistan as a base to attack American forces across the border.

Ayesha Siddiqa, an Islamabad-based defense analyst, said the U.S. has very few options in Pakistan. “It could increase economic aid rather than military aid to its ally, or resurrect George W. Bush’s ‘with us or against us’ rhetoric and put greater pressure on Pakistan to deliver.”

Providing a sampling of things to come, Mr. Zardari wrote: “Ambassador Holbrooke will soon discover that Pakistan is far more than a rhetorical partner in the fight against extremism … . With all due respect, we need no lectures on our commitment. This is our war. It is our children and wives who are dying.”

The president’s wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was killed in a terrorist attack in Rawalpindi in 2007.

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