In November 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama took a ten-day trip throughout Asia to focus on economic issues. However, his first stop in India put a spotlight on the long-running tensions between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir region.

In November 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama took a ten-day trip throughout Asia to focus on economic issues. However, his first stop in India put a spotlight on the long-running tensions between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir region.

South Asia adviser Moeed Yusuf describes how the issue of Kashmir impacts U.S. relations with India and Pakistan.

President Obama’s arrival in India has brought public attention to many issue, one of them is the tension between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Why is there such a level of international concern over regional developments?

While the situation in Afghanistan and the threat emanating from Pakistani Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has preoccupied the international community in recent years, long term stability in South Asia cannot be achieved unless Indo-Pak normalization becomes reality. Kashmir remains the single most important outstanding issue. Until the two sides achieve resolution of this long standing dispute, Pakistan's security paradigm will remain India-centric, thus making all other concerns - including U.S. interests in Afghanistan - secondary. Kashmir's resolution is also imperative if India is to fulfill its dream of becoming a truly great global power. Make no mistake, Indo-Pak ties cannot expand substantially unless Kashmir is amicably resolved.

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The U.S. has significant security priorities in Pakistan and economic interests in India. What is the U.S. position on Kashmir? 

The American role in Kashmir is a delicate one. Pakistan has always welcomed proactive involvement from countries like the U.S. India, however, remains strongly opposed to any outside role and wants to discuss the issue strictly in a bilateral context. The U.S. finds itself in an awkward position given that it requires and aims for a healthy relationship with both South Asian powers. To date, policy makers in Washington have settled for offering 'facilitation' which they believe is just enough to keep both sides from completely opposing the American position. However, the dilemma is that while being diplomatically expedient, such a stance is unlikely to allow the U.S. to play a substantive role in nudging the two sides towards resolution of the dispute.

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As President Obama’s visit to the memorial for the victims of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks demonstrated, the security discussion is not completely forgotten. How do India and Pakistan view each other’s efforts to combat terrorism?

India and Pakistan are like an estranged couple:  every time they try to mend fences, they end up consuming themselves with finger pointing for past behavior; yet, they cannot stop talking about the other to their friends. It is therefore no surprise that Pakistan kept coming up in the terrorism context during the President's visit to India. Given Washington's efforts to work with both sides simultaneously, New Delhi and Islamabad wish to use America's leverage over the other to their advantage.

India has contended for long that the Pakistani state deliberately supports terrorism on its soil as a substitute to employing legitimate diplomatic means to resolve disputes. It has continued to raise this issue diplomatically at various international forums. Indeed, Pakistan used militancy as a tactical tool in Indian Kashmir during the 1990s to raise Indian costs and bring it to the negotiating table. While it contends that it has given up this policy and does not support any acts of terrorism conducted by groups based on Pakistani soil any longer, the Indian state maintains that Islamabad is bluffing and that it is behind episodes such as Mumbai. In fact, it has pointed to recent revelations by certain apprehended militants as proof of Pakistani intelligence service's involvement in the Mumbai carnage.

The objective reality in terms of Pakistan's state policy vis-a-vis terrorism in India is difficult to decipher. Pakistan pledges incapacity to eliminate all anti-India groups completely in the short run. This is valid. However, whether incapacity is complemented by lack of will - as India contends - is not clear. Regardless, what is clear is that Kashmir remains intrinsically linked to acts of terrorism - it is the outstanding nature of this dispute that allows militant groups in Pakistan to rally and continue operating with certain amount of legitimacy.

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Are there prospects for an improvement in India-Pakistan relations?

I remain more optimistic than most that a breakthrough will be achieved on the bilateral front. The reason is that both countries are now fully cognizant of the exorbitant costs of a tense relationship. Pakistan, with its hands full with the situation in Afghanistan and a struggling economy can no longer afford to retain its obsession with the threat from India. India, on its part, has failed to solve Kashmir militarily or politically (domestically) and it realizes that Kashmir, and the overall state of relations with Pakistan, are holding it back from achieving its global ambitions. These were the compulsions that led the two sides to make substantial progress on Kashmir till 2007. While they missed an opportunity to clinch a deal, there is no reason why they cannot regain lost ground.

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How does the Kashmir situation impact the ongoing U.S. involvement in Afghanistan?

I have maintained since the very onset of the Afghanistan campaign that the U.S. cannot succeed without being Pakistan fully on board and that this is unlikely to happen unless Islamabad sees a sincere effort from Washington on the Kashmir issue. Washington underestimated the importance of the 'K' word for Pakistan and chose a strategy which essentially sought to offer a lot of monetary assistance in return for Pakistan's outright support in Afghanistan. This was never going to work; we are just now realizing this - nine years into the campaign.

Even now, the coalition presence in Afghanistan would do well to comprehend that Pakistan's positive role in finding an amicable political settlement rests on assurances that India will not be allowed an overbearing presence in Kabul. To be sure, this makes Washington's task extremely complicated as India is a key ally and it is virtually impossible to accept Pakistan's position without harming overall U.S.-India ties. Yet, this is precisely the challenge U.S. negotiators will have to confront in the months ahead.

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What is USIP doing to strengthen the relationship between India and Pakistan?

In order to facilitate dialogue between India and Pakistan, USIP is currently supporting two sets of track-II dialogues. The dialogues involve opinion makers, ex-officials,  and civil society members from both sides and span the entire spectrum of contentious issue between the two sides.

Some of our analytical work on Pakistan also addresses bilateral issues. For example, an upcoming USIP Special Report on hydro-politics in Pakistan examines the Indus Water Treaty and water issues between the two South Asian neighbors in detail. Finally, the Institute has a strong track record of analytical work and outreach activities on Kashmir. We have focused on illustrating the potential for economic and human exchanges to serve as a potent peacebuilding and conflict resolution tool in the Kashmir context.

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