Cohen: India must liberate itself from Pakistan, Kashmir

Stephen Cohen at Pan IIT 2008 in Chennai on Saturday.   | Photo Credit: — Photo: Bijoy Ghosh

Special Correspondent

CHENNAI: India needed to “liberate itself” from Pakistan and Kashmir to take its rightful place in the global order, Stephen Cohen, fellow, Brookings Institute, said here on Saturday.

Although he could understand the anger in Indian public opinion after the Mumbai attacks, ideas of “hot pursuit” or any attempt to bomb terror camps in Pakistan-controlled areas out of existence would not solve the basic problem, he said.

Speaking at PanIIT 2008 here, Dr. Cohen, a former adviser to the State Department on South Asia, said India had emerged as an important economic factor for the U.S. over the last few decades.

While the Bush administration looked at India as a “balancer” in the region to China, the Obama administration was more concerned about India’s role in containing the threat from the west in Afghanistan. He felt that both approaches were flawed but indicated indisputably that the entire political spectrum in the U.S. was keyed in on India’s strategic importance.

Even the Indians’ long-standing demand that Pakistan was a hotbed of terrorism was recognised following the “brilliant stupidity” of the Lashkar-e-Taiba which had internationalised the issue in the Mumbai attacks in which people of 22 nations became victims.

There was no question now that the U.S. would support India in the matter of terrorist elements operating out of Pakistan-controlled areas. But it was also worried over the fact that a significant proportion of supplies to troops in Afghanistan depended on the stability of Pakistan, forcing the U.S to support regimes that promised some stability in that country.

In this context, it would be unwise for India to escalate military action and try to destroy terror camps unilaterally. More than the question of the right to act in foreign territory against perceived aggressors the way the U.S. had acted in Afghanistan, India had to be conscious of the threat the nuclear neighbour posed if pushed into a desperate situation.

He also cautioned that the Kashmir issue would also involve dialogue with the Chinese and the Kashmiris themselves and the only way out of this deadlock would be to mediate with the moderates in Pakistan through social, cultural exchanges, cricket and other means.

But Dr. Cohen said the current atmosphere augured well for India-U.S. relations as the Obama administration would involve experts who understood the complexities of dealing with Pakistan and a need for closer cooperation with India. Military and technical cooperation would be priority areas and India and the U.S. could also work beyond bilateral issues and focus on larger global issues like the environment, water, terrorism, science and technology.

In the long-term, Dr. Cohen argued that there would be greater cooperation between India and the U.S. across the board and while there were issues with Indian success affecting the U.S. labour, for example, these would be ironed out over time.