Although they may have had multiple objectives, the terrorists
that struck Mumbai in late November almost certainly sought to
provoke an Indo-Pakistani crisis, much like the 2001-02 military
standoff that nearly brought the two nuclear-armed nations to war.
Just as that crisis diverted attention from the war in Afghanistan
and forced Pakistan to move troops from its western border to its
eastern border, it is plausible the masterminds of the Mumbai
attacks hoped for a similar outcome seven years later.
The Mumbai attacks emphasize the extent to which developments
and relationships in the region are interwoven, as well as the need
to defuse long-standing strategic rivalries in order to contain the
terrorist scourge threatening the long-term stability of
Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Recognizing this reality has
resulted in murmurings regarding the need for a U.S. Kashmir envoy.
The real need, however, is for a broad-based South Asia regional
envoy; the distinction between the two is enormously important.
Take Broad Approach
President-elect Barack Obama's recent assertion that the U.S.
should try to help resolve the Kashmir issue so that Pakistan can
focus on reining in militancy on its Afghan border is misguided.
Raising the specter of international intervention in the dispute
could fuel unrealistic expectations in Pakistan for a final
settlement in its favor. Such expectations could encourage
Islamabad to increase support for Kashmiri militants to push an
agenda it believed was within reach. Such a scenario is hardly
unprecedented: Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf
initiated the Kargil incursion into Indian-administered Kashmir in
1999 precisely to raise the profile of the Kashmir issue and to
encourage international mediation.
Instead of narrowly focusing on Kashmir, the incoming Obama
Administration should assume a much wider view of the region's
challenges. Such a broad approach would recognize that Pakistan's
focus on Kashmir is a symptom of broader issues, including the
impact of India's emergence as a global power and the Pakistani
army's continued domination over the country's national security
The Indians would be unreceptive to direct international
mediation on Kashmir. Any such move in this direction would raise
suspicions in New Delhi that Washington is reverting back to
policies that view India only through the South Asia lens rather
than as the rising world power it has become. This perception could
hurt the Obama Administration's ability to build on major gains the
Bush team made in improving what Vice President-elect Joe Biden has
himself called one of the most important bilateral relationships
for the U.S. in the 21st century.
A high-profile regional envoy can play a productive role
in simultaneously easing both Pakistan-Afghanistan and
Indo-Pakistani tensions by prodding the countries to move forward
with confidence-building measures, like the recent opening of a
road between Indian-administered and Pakistani-administered
Kashmir. Initiatives such as the establishment of Reconstruction
Opportunity Zones (ROZs) in the border regions of Pakistan and
Afghanistan can also help defuse regional tensions. ROZ legislation
now before the U.S. Congress would create industrial zones to
produce and export textiles and other items to the U.S. duty-free,
helping to integrate the Afghan and Pakistani economies.
Initiatives like ROZs will give each country a vested interest in
the stability of the other and help defuse conflict that fuels
support for radical ideologies and terrorism.
But perhaps the most important task of this regional envoy would
be convincing the Pakistani military to give up its policies of
relying on violent extremist groups to achieve its foreign policy
objectives in the region. In order to defuse the Indo-Pakistani
crisis over the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan must shut down the
Kashmir-focused groups it has spawned and that increasingly have
links to international terrorism, including most likely the
atrocities in Mumbai.
In the past, Washington has been reluctant to pursue Kashmiri
terrorist groups with the same zeal it pursues al-Qaeda. This was a
mistake. In his meetings with Pakistani officials on December 3,
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen
apparently demanded Pakistan take firm action against the
Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LET) and its leader Hafiz Muhammed Sayeed,
indicating Washington is finally getting tough on the issue of
pursuing Kashmir-focused terrorist groups.
LET has not only succeeded in bringing two nuclear-armed nations
to the brink of war; it ultimately threatens Pakistan's own
future--a fact recognized by the country's civilian leaders.
Therefore, it is time for the military establishment to recognize
the threat these groups pose for Pakistan and act decisively to
shut them down. Eradicating groups like LET will not be easy and
will likely involve further bloodshed, but last week's attack made
it clear there can be no other course of action: The longer
Pakistan waits, the stronger these groups become.
President-elect Obama rightly recognizes the need for the U.S.
to engage in more robust regional diplomacy to defuse deep-seated
animosities and to generate economic and trade initiatives that
build support among local populations for uprooting the terrorists
among them. But he must avoid falling into the trap of seeking to
appoint a Kashmir-specific envoy, which could backfire by fueling
unrealistic expectations of those who wish to change the status quo
as well as undermine the great potential of the U.S.-India
Lisa Curtis is Senior
Research Fellow for South Asia in the Asian Studies Center at The