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October 30, 2010

Does the road to Kabul go through Kashmir?

(An Indian soldier stands near fresh graffiti in Srinagar on Saturday, Oct. 30)

Next week, after what is expected to be a humbling Election Day for Democrats, President Barack Obama will head to India at the start of his first post-election travels overseas.

Obama is expected to visit Mumbai and commemorate the devastating 2008 attacks that have recently been linked to Pakistan's ISI spy agency.

The attack was the work of Lashkar-e Taiba, the Pakistan-backed militant group fighting to force India to relinquish control of Kashmir.

While Obama is expected to discuss terrorism and regional insecurity, it appears as if the American president is likely to evade much discussion of Kashmir.

As Paul Beckett recently noted at the Wall Street Journal, Obama aides briefing White House reporters on the trip appeared to studiously avoid use of "the K-word."

Kashmir has been on a steady boil since June, when the death of a 17-year-old protester unleashed the most destabilizing series of protests in years.

Indian forces have killed more than 110 people since June. Stone throwing demonstrators routinely square off with Indian forces. Government officials regularly impose curfews on activist hotbeds. And opposition leaders call for prolonged strikes.

And, this weekend, opposition leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani issued a new call for demonstrators to intensify their protests during Obama's visit.

There are many reasons for Obama to avoid saying "the K-word."

First and foremost, Obama's Indian hosts have adamantly resisted repeated attempts by American leaders to act as mediators in the dispute.

Indian sensitivity about Kashmir was again on display this month when Indian officials threatened to arrest writer Arundhati Roy for sedition after she suggested that India had no historic claim to Kashmir.

In response, Roy issued a terse statement defending her position.

"Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds," she wrote. "Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice, while communal killers, mass murderers, corporate scamsters, looters, rapists, and those who prey on the poorest of the poor, roam free."

Since Obama is focused primarily on economic issues, he's unlikely to rile Indian leaders by bringing Kashmir to the forefront.

At the same time, there are many who argue that Kashmir is central to Obama's hopes of bringing a measure of stability to Afghanistan.

Kashmir has been the spark for two wars between India and Pakistan, and resolving the land dispute is central to assuaging concerns in both countries about the territorial ambitions of their longstanding rivals.

"The Road to Kabul Runs Through Kashmir," Newsweek argued earlier this year.

"The intifada that exploded this summer in Kashmir cannot be ignored by the president during the visit but any comments on it will be potentially explosive," Brookings Institution senior fellow Bruce Riedel recently noted.

Last month in The New York Review of Books, respected author and journalist Steve Coll argued for greater US involvement in Kashmir.

"The interests that the United States has in the Kashmir conflict are greater now than at any time in the postwar period," Coll wrote. "American efforts to prevent a second Taliban revolution in Afghanistan and to quell Islamist rebellion within Pakistan are unlikely to succeed if ISI continues its three-decade practice of using jihadi groups to wage their own brand of war against India."

But, in the wake of Election Day, it seems unlikely that Obama will trouble the waters in India.


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Inside the ultimate evaluation, the challenging those who endure the difficult times do so for the reason that they've picked to react positively to their predicament. Hard occasions in no way last, but challenging people today do. Hard folks stick it out. Historical past teaches us that each challenge features a lifespan.

It should sink in by now...
"No Kashmir dispute resolution for kashmiris equals No victory for US in Afghanistan
Simple as that.

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Checkpoint Kabul is written by McClatchy journalists covering Afghanistan and south Asia.

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