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Obama's Kashmir focus a colossal blunder: US expert

January 19, 2009 09:54 IST
Strategic affairs specialist Dr Ashley Tellis believes the November 26 terror attacks on Mumbai has given birth to the "misguided notion" that a resolution of the Kashmir dispute is imperative to rein in terrorism in South Asia, and that this should be the priority of the proposed special envoy to the region.

Such an agenda, warns Dr Tellis, currently a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, would be "a colossal blunder."

"It's an example of facile solutions that people are reaching for because they have either not done the analysis or they have not thought through the solution carefully," the Mumbai-born Dr Tellis said. "Everyone is gravitating towards what appears to be the sexy solution. The difficulty is that it will only make things worse."

The single biggest problem, he felt, is that such a solution is based on the assumption that a genuine grievance about Kashmir is the trigger for terrorism in the region. "The fact of the matter is that genuine grievances about Kashmir are being addressed by the two countries through their bilateral process, and the groups that are conducting this murder and mayhem could care a damn about Kashmir anymore than they would care about some other subject."

He argued that Lashkar-e-Tayiba and similar groups are "are driven by an ideology that is very, very different, and that can be demonstrated from the fact that these groups are fundamentally non-Kashmiri to begin with. The Lashkar is manned by Pakistani Punjabis. The only genuine Kashmiri resistance group, which is Hizbul Mujaheddin, has never operated outside of Kashmir. I don't understand how making the argument that solving Kashmir is going to end these tragedies makes any sense at all."

Dr Tellis says Barack Obama's thinking, expressed often during his election campaign, that solving Kashmir was key to ending terrorism, is analogous to the argument after 9/11 that the Palestinian crisis had to be resolved to avoid such tragedies. "I don't think any of the protagonists of these solutions either understands the region, knows the region, or has given deep thought to it. This is one of these facile things that comes to mind, and it sounds very cute and very reasonable and plausible, and so people are floating this."

The real problem, Dr Tellis said, is that the war in Afghanistan has entered a difficult phase thanks largely to Pakistan's non-cooperation, and it is this issue that should be the focus for urgent resolution.

If the US went the Kashmir route, the analyst warned, "it would end up being embarrassed and destroying the credibility of American diplomacy. There is a reason why we haven't done this for 30 years. To try and come up with these ideas now is just shallow thinking."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC