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The line never changes

The US has been regurgitating the same stale pap on Kashmir for decades. It shouldn’t be a surprise, therefore, that as that pablum flows from the top, US President Barack Obama has been diagnosed with acid reflux

columns Updated: Dec 12, 2014 22:00 IST

One upside of living in multiethnic cities like New York and Toronto is the opportunity to interact with Pakistanis as co-workers, colleagues, fellow professionals and friends. You often find common ground as in dissing the dishes served up in places that specialise in curry-in-a-hurry cuisine. Pakistanis can be gregarious to a fault, but also to a point. Conversations can lapse into cartoonish silences when a certain 800-pound gorilla saunters into the subcontinental subtext — Kashmir. Even a discussion over a World Cup match between the rivals never grounds to a halt the way conversations congeal over the LoC. That gorilla will go on sucking the oxygen out of the room.

Now, the J&K elections are being celebrated in India, polling percentages have been thrown around like confetti. Predictably enough, there’s been the counter–infiltration and coordinated terrorist attacks.

Just as predictably, the US’ State Department continues a policy that has historically contributed to the cross-border polarisation. The foghorn from Foggy Bottom, the department’s HQ, keeps blowing the all-clear for Pakistan. After recent violence, obviously triggered by large voter turnouts in the state, a question was posed to the Department’s spokesperson at the daily briefing. This was regarding the two-week visit of Pakistan’s army chief Raheel Sharif to America, his chinwag with secretary of state John Kerry, and the attacks closely following his return to Rawalpindi and the sort of message Kerry conveyed. To this, the spokesperson retorted, “I wouldn’t jump to conclusions here. But we have encouraged both countries to work together on this.”

The military Sharif’s haul from Washington was huge; not only was he decorated with a Legion of Merit medal but the US Congress also released military aid under the Coalition Support Fund.

But then, American mollycoddling of Pakistan’s military isn’t a recent phenomenon. Nor is the Department’s institutional alliance with Pakistan on Kashmir. Robin Raphel, currently the subject of a counterintelligence investigation in the US, was appointed by then President Bill Clinton as the first assistant secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs and likely evolved the Department’s Kashmir line, which may have blurred somewhat but remains in place. Raphel, of course, later worked as a lobbyist for Pakistan and then seamlessly transitioned to being part of the late Richard Holbrooke’s AfPak team.

Meanwhile, another lobbyist, Ghulam Nabi Fai, was arrested in 2011 and jailed for receiving funding from Pakistan’s ISI. Fai was among the Kashmir cabal in Washington with access to the Department, sometimes escorting those like Mirwaiz Farooq for meetings with officials there. Having completed his sentence, Fai has returned to his Kashmir cause this year.

The obvious US tilt isn’t limited to the Department but also extends to its satellites in the thicket of US think tanks. One such wonk once complained to me that America wouldn’t be able to successfully complete its mission in Afghanistan unless India were prepared to concede ground on Kashmir, and he probably didn’t mean that just figuratively.

That’s thinking of the magic surrealism variety, which was once voiced by then presidential candidate Barack Obama. In 2008, he had said, “We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants.”

Angry objections from India trimmed such talk. As it did when the UN General Secretary Ban ki-Moon walked back his words on Kashmir. But as he gives them a fresh airing, we’ve returned to hearing tired twaddle, which ignores the Pakistan deep state’s fixation with fixing India, of which its Kashmir strategy is but a symptom. The US has been regurgitating the same stale pap for decades. It shouldn’t be a surprise, therefore, that as that pablum flows from the top, Obama has been diagnosed with acid reflux.

Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs

The views expressed by the author are personal