Is Washington Refocusing on Kashmir?
by Ramtanu Maitra on 29 Aug 2011 16 Comments

After a brief interlude, it seems Kashmir is back on Washington’s agenda. Why do I think so? There are a number of reasons. Pakistan-US relations are in deep doo-doo, but no Afghan solution of any kind is possible without a favourable nod from Pakistan. So why not massage Pakistan by bringing up Kashmir? Further, those in Washington who are keen to get a grip on Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, or at least think they ought to, also believe a “little concession” to Pakistan by forcing India to the discussion table on Kashmir would be a small price to pay.


A Brit in Obama’s Court


In this milieu, I see the presence in Washington of Alexander Evans, a counsellor in the British diplomatic service currently on sabbatical as the Henry A. Kissinger Chair in International Relations and Foreign Policy at the Library of Congress, as a signal. In January 2012 he will move to become a senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.


Evans worked previously at the US Department of State as a senior adviser, first to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and then to Ambassador Marc Grossman, successively the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was on loan to the State Department from the British Foreign Office, a measure of how closely the American foreign policy apparatus works with that of Britain, the old colonials. Evans was brought to Washington because he knows best what the Americans do not know very well any longer, and that is, you guessed it, Kashmir.


Before working in the US, Evans was First Secretary Political at the British High Commission in Islamabad and in New Delhi and a member of the Policy Planning Staff in London. He worked on former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s 2007 policy review, “Britain in the World.”


Evans, an analyst with the BBC on South Asian affairs for many years, is, in his own words, a “Kashmir specialist.” In his profile the website he states: “I am a Kashmir specialist at the Centre for Defence Studies, King’s College London. I first visited Kashmir in 1992 and since then have paid a number of return visits and written several book chapters and various research articles on contemporary Kashmir.” I am sure he is an expert. I also know the stable he belongs to; it is run by Tony Blair and his protégé, David Miliband.


Obama on Kashmir


Why was Evans brought to Washington and put on the marquee if resolution of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan is no longer of interest to the Americans? Well, that policy could change, and Washington may find Alexander Evans’ geopolitical input of great use.


One may recall that prior to his election as president of the United States, Nobel Laureate Barack Obama was mouthing his resolve to change and settle issues that hurt the United States’ interests, slowed down progress and upset world peace. Since he became president, a lot of water has flowed down the Potomac, but change for the better remains elusive. Not only have none of the unresolved issues been settled, but President Obama faces new, difficult issues such as Libya, Syria, Egypt, to name a few, where he looks involved, and yet, not involved.


In 2008 one of the issues the president-to-be promised the American people he would take up was the Kashmir dispute. In an interview broadcast on MSNBC, Obama suggested that his administration would encourage India to solve the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan, so that Islamabad could better cooperate with the United States on Afghanistan. Obama’s definitive thesis was explained thus:

-        “The most important thing we’re going to have to do with respect to Afghanistan is actually deal with Pakistan. And we’ve got to work with the newly elected government there (Pakistan) in a coherent way that says, terrorism is now a threat to you. Extremism is a threat to you. We should … try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they (Pakistan) can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants.”


Almost two years later, at a New Delhi news conference with India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, President Obama responded to a question about what role the United States could play in resolving the Kashmir dispute: “With respect to Kashmir, obviously this is a longstanding dispute between India and Pakistan; as I said yesterday, I believe that both Pakistan and India have an interest in reducing tensions between the two countries. The United States cannot impose a solution to these problems, but I have indicated to Prime Minister Singh that we are happy to play any role that the parties think is appropriate in reducing these tensions. That’s in the interests of the region; it is in the interests of the two countries involved; and it is in the interests of the United States of America.”


Tony Blair’s Handyman: David Miliband


It is evident that during those two years President Obama mellowed his earlier-held strident views on resolving the Kashmir issue. But the change did not come about by developing a better understanding; it was a result of his efforts to engage the late Richard Holbrooke, who was the Obama administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan-Pakistan (shortened to sound like the quacking of a duck: “Af-Pak”), in the Kashmir affair, which backfired rather spectacularly with the Indians.


New Delhi mobilized the media and its other resources against Holbrooke, whose February 2009 scheduled visit to India the Indians thought was primarily to discuss Kashmir. Finally the trip was officially abandoned, and on July 25 US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told journalists in Washington: “I think the ambassador (Holbrooke) is not going to stop in India on this trip. There was a mismatch in terms of scheduling. So, he will do that on a future trip to the region.” That trip to India never took place and the necessity to “resolve the Kashmir dispute” was never uttered so loudly again by the present US administration.


But the dream did not vanish altogether; it just took a breather. As long as Washington continues to depend on its colonial cousins in Britain, the game of geopolitics can only be stalled, but not abandoned. That Kashmir would remain a live issue within the Obama administration became evident when, in the aftermath of the November 2008 Mumbai attack and prior to his visit to India, Tony Blair’s boy, David Miliband, told the Guardian on Jan.15, 2009, that the Mumbai attack was the handiwork of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), that the war on terror had been mistaken, and that individual groups like LeT should be targeted and brought to justice.

Miliband added that solving the Kashmir issue would deny LeT its “call to arms” and free Pakistan to fight al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in its tribal areas. He was quoted: “Although I understand the current difficulties, resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main calls to arms, and allow Pakistani authorities to focus more effectively on tackling the threat on their western borders.”


Why Miliband was not given the Holbrooke treatment by New Delhi and instead was allowed to visit India is another matter. But then one must note that the number of British assets within India, within the middle class and among those who walk the corridors of power, including the Indian prime minister, make it plain that Indians have a ‘thing” going for their old colonial masters. Whether it is the love of British liberalism or the usual loyalty of slaves to their master, it is difficult to fathom. But the bottom line is that Miliband not only went to India but spent some “quality time” with Rahul Gandhi in some dusty Indian village.


Evans and the Kashmir Study Group


Now, coming back to Evans, the question is what this British foreign policy “expert on Kashmir” is expected to deliver to the Obama administration? Going by his track record, it seems Evans is very close to non-valley Kashmiris (these are the great many Mirpuris who play ball with the British colonials on the “independent Kashmir” campaign in London) and helps them to keep the fires of an independent Kashmir burning.


Like all right-minded individuals, Evans does not like violence. He is disturbed by the violence that occurs in the Indian part of Kashmir. But he is less vocal about the killings that take place in Gilgit, Baltistan and elsewhere in the Pakistani part of Kashmir.


Following the 9/11 events, Mr. Evans was distinctly worried that Pakistan’s ability to continue with its terrorist-deployment strategy inside the Indian part of Kashmir would be curtailed by Washington. In an article on Oct. 2, 2001 in the Kashmir Observer titled “Attack on America: Lasting Impact on Kashmir,” Evans deliberated on the changes he saw coming. He wrote: “What might all these changes mean in practice? Pressure - serious pressure - to end militancy in Kashmir changes the equation within Kashmir completely, along with Kashmir-Islamabad and Kashmir-Delhi dealings.” It is evident that Evans was worried about pressure on the militants and those who run the militants.


He was also concerned about the Kashmiri opposition political leaders belonging to the Hurriyat and APHC, whom he must have courted for long. He wrote: “The political leaders who will need to do the most thinking are those within the APHC. A new regional order - and a powerfully aggressive US policy on anything that smacks of terrorism (groups already on the US list of terrorist organizations are unlikely to be able to distance themselves from the tag) - demands a new political strategy from the APHC umbrella. This will prove difficult to craft, and the residual tensions between moderates and hardliners, nationalists and pro-Pakistanis, and the smaller constituency of political Islamists, may bubble to the surface.”


Mr. Evans was also concerned about the Kashmiri diaspora that he handles so deftly on behalf of the British colonials. He wrote: “The impact will also be felt by Kashmiris as a whole. The Kashmiri diaspora will never enjoy the freedoms it has, since the 1960s, drawn upon to agitate and support militancy in Britain, Europe and the US. Various prominent Kashmiri exiles may find their continuing residency overseas subject to stringent restraints.”


In concluding the article, he wrote what he really wants to achieve while working in the very friendly environs of Washington: “Of course a solution to the Kashmir problem is needed, now more than ever, and it should be pursued. Deeper comprehension of the Kashmir problem is required, however, if the current low-level crisis in Kashmir is ever to be resolved. Greater US interest in the issue is welcome, therefore, and thoughtful analysis coming from the likes of the Kashmir Study Group, operated from New York, and other organizations could pave the way for a more informed dialogue among India, Pakistan, and, it is hoped, the Kashmiris, too.”


Now, one of the members of the Kashmir Study Group, Farooq Kathwari, chairman, CEO and president of Ethan Allan (a large home furnishings manufacturer and retailer), appointed last September by President Obama as a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, is also passionately involved with the organization that has allegedly dedicated itself to help bring about a solution to the crisis that has plagued the state of Jammu and Kashmir for the last decade.


In an interview with in September 2000, Mr. Kathwari stated that the objective of the Kashmir Study Group “is to engage in fact-finding and the analysis of possible steps toward a solution, that is, unofficial initiatives by private citizens. The KSG members have listened to the parties to this conflict, shared ideas, looked for common ground, explored recommendations and urged actions that might bring the Kashmir conflict to a settlement.”


Mr. Kathwari’s son, however, did not believe in such mumbo-jumbo. According to a report on Daniel Pipes’ website (, Kathwari Jr. “took leave from Harvard Medical School to go fight in Kashmir. He did not know any Urdu or anything else about the conflict except that it was a fight between good and evil. Good meaning of course Islam, and Hindus were, no doubt, the evil.” He died in Kashmir fighting Indian soldiers, the report said.


The author is South Asian Analyst at Executive Intelligence Review 

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