Barack Obama has consistently said he will seek a settlement of the Kashmir dispute. “I will encourage dialogue between Pakistan and India to work toward resolving their dispute over Kashmir,” he wrote in his first foreign policy article in July 2007.
He recently said: “We should try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that (Pakistan) can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants.”
John McCain has been noticeable for his silence on the issue, continuing the Bush administration’s view Kashmir was best left to India and Pakistan to resolve.
Why is Obama interested in Kashmir? The answer is his conviction the US’s number one security threat lies in the turmoil in Afghanistan and cannot be settled without Pakistani cooperation, which can only occur if it is cured of its insecurity regarding India.
This intellectual domino game is summarised in a number of articles by Obama’s senior South Asia policy advisor, Bruce Riedel: “Pakistani leaders from Zia to Musharraf repeatedly looked at Afghanistan in the context of their struggle with India.”
Obama’s writings reflect this: “If Pakistan can look toward the east with greater confidence, it will be less likely to believe its interests are best advanced through cooperation with the Taliban.”
A senior analyst, who preferred anonymity, said the view a more active Kashmir role is necessary to a revived Afghan war is held by a number of Obama advisors, including two national security advisor sontenders, Susan Rice and Anthony Lake.
An Asia policy advisor to John McCain sees this is a crucial difference between the two candidates. “People like Riedel call for elevating the Kashmir issue in our relations along the lines of what Pakistan wants; a very Pakistan-centric, 1990s approach…If Obama wins, watch out.”
However, Indian officials are not alarmed. The Indo-US relationship has changed so much the US can no longer issue diktats regarding Kashmir. Washington will probably urge India to help but be open to suggestions. “The tone will be completely different. It will be a discussion between partners,” said one.
Sumit Ganguly, political scientist at the University of Indiana-Bloomington, doesn’t believe Kashmir will be a priority: “If India wants to be a great power it must stop…fearing it will be called to account on Kashmir.”