The Kashmir settlement-for-seat at high table idea (euphemism for UNSC membership) is being discussed animatedly in the highest levels of the US administration, according to a various sources. President Obama himself has decided to revive the process of a US push in this direction, albeit discreetly, because of New Delhi's sensitivities.
Key administration officials are confirming that the UNSC issue will be on Obama's agenda when he visits New Delhi. The US President is expected to announce an incremental American support to India's candidature during his address to the joint session of India's parliament, depending on New Delhi's receptiveness to resolving the Kashmir tangle.
"[UNSC reforms] is something that is under discussion as we prepare for the President's important visit," US Assistant Secretary of State RObert Blake confirmed on Monday during a read-out of the meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [Unlink]
and her Indian counterpart S.M.Krishna, saying the two had agreed the "President's visit will be a defining moment in the history of our bilateral relations."
The clearest insight into Obama's thinking on the matter comes from Bob Woodward's latest book "Obama's War" in which top US policy makers are shown mulling on defusing the Kashmir situation as part of an exit strategy for US from the AfPak theater.
"Why can't we have straightforward talks with India on why a stable Pakistan
is crucial?" Obama is reported as musing at one meeting. "India is moving toward a higher place in its global posture. A stable Pakistan would help." Implicit in the rumination is the idea that settling Kashmir would mollify Pakistan, where, US officials say, hardliners are using the unresolved issue as an excuse to breed an army of terrorists aimed at bleeding India.
But that is easier said than done, according to Bruce Riedel [Unlink]
, author of the Obama administration's Af-Pak strategy, who has canvassed the centrality of the Kashmir issue to peace and stability in the region. The spoiler to any settlement is the hardline Pakistani military and its jihadist proxies for whom attrition and confrontation with India is an article of faith.
In fact, the solution Washington has in mind (also proposed by Riedel) is likely more palatable to New Delhi than to Islamabad. It's on the same lines of what Prime Minister and Pakistan's deposed military leader broadly agreed on before the latter was turfed out of office: The Line of Control would become the international border, but it would be a soft, permeable border, allowing Kashmiris on both sides to move back and forth. The rest – safeguards, procedures etc – is a matter of detail.
"President Obama's strategy for dealing with Pakistan always needed a Kashmir component to succeed; that need is becoming more urgent and obvious now. His trip to India in November will be a key to addressing it," Riedel said in a commentary this week.
"India cannot become a global power with a prosperous economy if its neighbor is a constant source of terror armed with the bomb. A sick Pakistan is not a good neighbor," he added, echoing Obama's words (Woodward's book also suggests he influenced Obama's thinking).
Virtually setting the agenda for Obama's visit, Riedel says Obama's challenge is to quietly help Islamabad and New Delhi work behind the scenes to get back to the deal Musharraf and Singh negotiated. "He will have a chance to work this subtly when he visits India in November," he writes.
But Riedel and other US policy makers portrayed in Woodward's book also recognize that the biggest hurdle to a settlement is a hardline Pakistani military. While the civilian leadership in Pakistan would like to embrace the deal "it is unclear if the army chief, General Kayani, is on board."
Woodward's book shows that most top US officials, save Admiral Mike Mullen, believe Kayani to be a closet jihadi and a two-faced "liar" intent on perpetuating war with India. "I'll be the first to admit it, I'm India-centric," Kayani is quoted as telling US officials in one exchange.
Although three top cabinet principals from India -- S.M.Krishna, A.K.Antony, and Pranab Mukherjee [Unlink]
-- are in the US this week and next, exchanges on the UNSC and Kashmir are said to be taking place directly between President Obama and Prime Minister Singh through trusted interlocutors such as National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon, who is also in Washington DC this week.