WASHINGTON: A major dilemma for the United States in Afghanistan is to reconcile the conflicting security interests of countries like India and Pakistan, says a senior US official.
“The Indians have a legitimate series of security interests in that region, as do a number of other countries including, of course, Pakistan, China, and all the other countries that neighbour on Afghanistan,” said Richard Holbrooke, US special representative for the Pak-Afghan region, when asked to comment on the traditional jostling between Pakistan and India for greater influence in Afghanistan.
“And any search for a resolution of the war in Afghanistan requires that the legitimate security interests of every country be understood and taken into account,” he said.
“The dilemma arises when those security interests tend to be in conflict. Afghanistan has suffered throughout history by the fact that it has sometimes become the terrain for surrogate struggles for power. We do not want to see that happen. I hope that that will be something we can continue to work on.”
Asked to comment on a recent suggestion by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen that India and Pakistan needed to resume back-channel diplomacy on the Kashmir issue, Mr Holbrooke said the United States would “applaud and encourage” any step the two countries took to reduce tensions.
“But we are not going to act as intermediaries between Islamabad and New Delhi. That is not what we are here to do,” he added.
“On the specific you talked about, we are not going to negotiate or mediate on that issue and I’m going to try to keep my record and not even mention it by name,” said the US envoy without using the word ‘Kashmir’ in his response.
Mr Holbrooke also made it clear that he was not talking about himself but setting out the US position. “That is not what we are here to do,” he said adding: “I’m not just talking about myself.”
How did he see the evolving role of India in Afghanistan?
Noting that though his brief did not include US-India relations, Mr Holbrooke said he often visited New Delhi because of that country’s great importance in these issues (concerning Afghanistan).
Recalling that he was in New Delhi two weeks ago, the American envoy said he looked forward to seeing Indian officials at the Munich Security Conference on Friday.
He also referred to his interaction with Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna, who was seated in the second row of world leaders at the January 28 London conference on Afghanistan.
Asked to comment on a request by some Pakhtun tribal organisations that the names of Mullah Omar and Gulbuddin Hikmatyar should be removed from the UN terrorist list, Mr Holbrooke said: “I don’t think that the people you mentioned qualify for that kind of treatment. I cannot see that under the current circumstances anyone could realistically remove those names.”
Mr Holbrooke also insisted that there was a difference between the reintegration of some Taliban supporters with the Afghan mainstream and a proposed reconciliation with the Taliban leadership.
“Reintegration is a programme to give people fighting with the Taliban a chance to lay down their arms, renounce Al Qaeda, renounce violence, and participate in the political process of Afghanistan,” he said.
“It is a much needed programme. It is a gap in the existing programmes. And it is something that the ISAF Command considers of the highest importance, as does Secretary Clinton.”
The reconciliation, he said, a referred to the possibility of discussions with the leadership of the Taliban about bringing a peaceful end to the war.
He noted that President Karzai was in Saudi Arabia this week and had publicly called on the Saudis to assist in that effort.