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Travel hurdles mask tension between India, US envoy

delhi Updated: Aug 15, 2009 03:13 IST

US envoy Richard Holbrooke's visit to India has been put off for a second time in a month amid concern in New Delhi that his frequent trips were part of efforts to extend his regional mission beyond Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Holbrooke, special envoy to those two South Asian countries, is to visit both from Saturday, but will not come to India, as he did in April, because of "scheduling" problems.

India told Holbrooke that the appropriate officials were not available at the moment, officials said. Indian officials and analysts said New Delhi was worried that the special representative was attempting to expand his brief as part of Washington's policy to stabilise the region.

There are also concerns that Pakistan wants a solution to its longstanding dispute with India over Kashmir as an element of any regional peace efforts. India rejects any such notion.

"India is saying no mission creep will be allowed, no re-hyphenation with Pakistan would be allowed," said Siddharth Varadarajan, strategic affairs editor of The Hindu newspaper.

Many Indian analysts and officials believe Washington is biased toward helping Pakistan -- an old US ally and a key partner in stabilising Afghanistan -- rather than India, which only in recent years moved closer to the United States.

Holbrooke has said he is not trying to mediate between India and Pakistan and that his visits to India were only to update New Delhi on regional policy developments.

"From that perspective India should be happy that it is being kept in the loop by the United States about what it is doing in Pakistan and Afghanistan," said former Indian Foreign Secretary Lalit Mansingh.

"The reflection of irritation in the official (Indian) circle (about Holbrooke's visit) could be because his trips to India come tagged with engagements in Pakistan or Afghanistan."

Pakistan - A key US ally

Satish Chandra, former Indian high commissioner (ambassador) to Pakistan said it was understandable that the United States needed to comfort Pakistan - its main partner in fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

"They want India to make concessions to Pakistan and release the pressure on their border so that Pakistan can fight their war," Chandra said.

He said the ice-breaking summit between the two countries last month in Egypt -- after formal talks were halted in the aftermath of the mass attack on Mumbai -- was staged at the prodding of Washington.

"Now he could have come to sell ideas on Kashmir -- how to move troops, reduce tension, giving satisfaction to Pakistan."

But the troubles with Holbrooke do not necessarily reflect a wider dissonance between India and the United States, which once were on the opposite side of the Cold War but are now enjoying warmer relations.

"There are so many layers in this relationship that it would be wrong to broadbrush it with one issue," said an Indian government official.