Careful not to mention Kashmir by name, Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, on Wednesday rubbished Pakistan’s attempt to link the Kashmir issue with the American approach to stabilise Afghanistan.
Fresh from a trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, Mr. Holbrooke said he did not agree with people who have advocated the inclusion of Kashmir in the U.S. regional approach to end the war in Afghanistan.
“...I’m not talking about that certain area between them (India and Pakistan) which I’m not going to mention by name. I am — because I am not going to get involved in that.
“... And people who have advocated that (linking Kashmir with the approach to stabilise Afghanistan) are making a proposal which I believe runs counter to stability in Afghanistan. Afghanistan must be dealt with on its merits,” Mr. Holbrooke told reporters at the State Department, careful not to mention Kashmir.
He noted that it was his personal feeling that the three countries — Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India — were “vastly different in culture, socio-economic standing, political development, but they share a common strategic space.”
And in order to understand the U.S. policy and its policy dilemma, one has to understand that both India and Pakistan have legitimate security interests in the region, he said. “India has a legitimate interest even though they don’t have a common border (with Afghanistan),” he said, rejecting Pakistan’s stand that only Kabul’s contiguous neighbours could help bring peace to the war-torn nation.
“But I need to stress that both countries (India and Pakistan) have legitimate security interests. And if one country says the other has no interest,…. then it’s hard to have a dialogue,” Mr. Holbrooke said.
He said that is the reason why President Barack Obama has stated that “we encourage any sort of dialogue between the two countries, and Afghanistan is not the core of the issue but it is a part of the issue.”
Russia still has an interest in Afghanistan even though they do not have a common border, he said. At the same time, Iran and Pakistan are “obviously the two most important countries with power — common borders,” he noted.
Mr. Holbrooke said the U.S. had good relations with both India and Pakistan. “It is our view that it is in our national interest to improve relations with both countries.... Improved relations with one country is not at the expense of the other,” he said. “We — by improving relations in both countries, we can move forward a general search for peace and stability in the region.”
He noted that Washington’s South Asia policy began in 2000 when then President Bill Clinton went to both countries, the first President to visit either country in 22 years since Jimmy Carter had gone in 1978. And since then, former President George W. Bush has done the same thing.
“And we will — this is the overriding approach we have to the issue. And that’s our starting point for the strategic overview of the region,” he said.