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Holbrooke clarifies policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan

In case you were wondering, the US is not involved in any reconciliation process.

Holbrooke was quick to point out that India and Kashmir were not part of his brief, and the back story here, which he didn’t talk about, is that, although India, Pakistan and Afghanistan are intimately connected, India would never consider a special representative from Washington. India considers itself a world power, and didn’t want to be lumped in together with Pakistan and Afghanistan. Also, India didn’t want to be hectored by Holbrooke, or anybody else, about Kashmir, which India considers a domestic problem.

Holbrooke did say, however, that linking Afghanistan to Kashmir “would make both issues more difficult.” So, reading between his lines, you could conclude that, whatever you might think about the road to Kabul leading through Kashmir, any attempt to link them on the part of the United States would prove counter-productive.

In the partition of India in 1947, Kashmir, with its Muslim majority, went to India because its Hindu Raja declared for India, even though Pakistan was supposed to be the homeland for Muslims. It was interesting, therefore, to hear Holbrooke say that ceding Kashmir to India was a “shameful decision” on the part of Lord Mountbatten, the last British viceroy. This could be taken as showing sympathy for Pakistan’s position that Kashmir should have gone to Pakistan.

Holbrooke expressed sympathy for Pakistan in other matters last night, saying foreign aid had been under-funded, misdirected, and that Pakistanis were right in complaining that Washington did not consult with Islamabad about aid.

He said that Pakistan had very legitimate strategic interests in Afghanistan, but that other countries did to, and that is why he had been traveling in the Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union to get their views, and to India as well.

Holbrooke began his diplomatic career as a young official in the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam war, and was asked to compare Afghanistan with Vietnam. He said that John Kennedy had been right not to send troops to Vietnam above the advisor level, and Lyndon Johnson wrong to escalate, because nothing in Vietnam threatened the American homeland.

But the abandonment of Afghanistan after the Soviets left in 1989 had been a colossal mistake that led to Al Qaeda and 9/11. President Obama’s decision to escalate in Afghanistan, therefore was correct, Holbrooke said. A power vacuum in Afghanistan was dangerous to the United States.