Afghanistan: The India & Kashmir Connection

Maarcus Bleasdale/VII
A member of the Indian Central Reserve Police Force protecting himself against tear gas during riots in Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir, July 16, 2009

Obama’s long speech on Afghanistan on December 1 did not refer even once to India or Kashmir. Yet India has a large and growing presence in Afghanistan, and impoverished young Pakistanis, such as those who led the terrorist attack against Mumbai last November, continue to be indoctrinated by watching videos of Indian atrocities against Muslims in Kashmir. (Not much exaggeration is needed here: in late November an Indian hu-man rights group offered evidence of mass graves of nearly three thousand Muslims allegedly executed over the last decade by Indian security forces near the border with Pakistan.) Another terrorist assault on India is very likely; it will further stoke tensions between India and Pakistan, enfeebling America’s already faltering campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

There are many reasons for Obama’s silence. Strident Indian protests destroyed the chances of Richard Holbrooke adding Kashmir to his responsibilities as special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. When he assumed the presidency, Obama inherited the Bush administration’s policy of building up India as a strategic American ally and counterweight to China in Asia. Encouraged by an affluent and increasingly assertive Indian-American lobby, the Bush administration offered a civil nuclear agreement to India. India, unlike Iran, has long refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; the nuclear deal was yet another of the Bush administration’s defiant assertions of American exceptionalism, opening up India, after a long period of sanctions, to American defense companies (Lockheed Martin alone hopes to cut deals worth $15 billion over the next five years).

India does not seem to have the same exalted place in the Obama administration’s worldview. As the US and China become even more economically interdependent, notions of “containing” the Middle Kingdom through pro-America allies now look less like realpolitik than a symptom of anachronistic cold-war thinking in Condoleezza Rice’s State Department. Despite hosting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his first state dinner on November 24, Obama has shown few signs of sharing Bush’s special affection for India, which prompted the normally restrained Singh to blurt out during his farewell visit to the White House in September 2008, “The people of India deeply love you, President Bush!”

But Western policymakers still don’t fully understand that the Bush administration’s decision to legitimize India’s nuclear status, and to help project the country as a rising superpower, inflamed an old paranoia in Pakistan (and indeed in China, which, breaking from its policy of befriending previously hostile neighbors like Vietnam and Mongolia, has recently assumed its harshest stance toward India in decades). After all, India and Pakistan have fought three major wars over Kashmir. In 1971, India facilitated the secession of Pakistan’s easternmost province (now Bangladesh), provoking its humiliated army and intelligence officials…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.