McCain in Kashmir! Why

‘Senator John McCain arrives on a two day visit to Kashmir’. The news about the visit of the Republican candidate for 2008 presidential election to the strategically located state of Jammu and Kashmir that is seen by many observers as a   emerging playground for Asian powers would have   passed as routine visit but for the element of surprise added to it by the state chief minister by writing on Twitter that ‘he was curious to know about the purpose of the visit.’

The Senator accompanied by   Christian Brose, Foreign Policy Advisor; Vance Serchuk, Foreign Policy Advisor and Lt Lawrence Heyworth, USN, Military Escort arrived directly from Islamabad. In the recent history of Kashmir it was for the first time that a high profile US delegation instead of first visiting New Delhi   landed directly in a state  that it has been historically counting as a ‘disputed territory’. The senator and his team in Srinagar   had meeting with India’s top military brass stationed in the state and preferred not to meet the civil society and dissenting leadership. It is obvious from the tweet that chief minister had no advance information about visit of the team.

The purpose of team visiting Islamabad needs no explanation, it was more than obvious but what brought it to Srinagar continues to intrigue the political observers and commentators. McCain is senior member of the US Senate’s Arms Services Committee that has the power to approve or deny military assistance to Pakistan.  The Washington in reaction to Pakistan Army’s decision to expel American military trainers in wake of the Bin Laden debacle in Abbotabad withheld $800 million in military assistance to Pakistan last month and threatened of withholding more assistance continues to loom large over Islamabad. Pakistan-US partnership in fighting terrors in the region is virtually on ebb.  

McCain’s was the first senior US political figure to visit Islamabad since the relations between two countries turned ‘bitterest ever’. His meeting with Pakistan leaders and military chief had obvious purposes.  But despite its importance   the visit did not attract   much importance in Pakistan media and largely went as a non-event. In New Delhi and Srinagar, the visit attracted good attention.

There seemed to be no reason for the US team led by John McCain to visit Srinagar and meet the military officers posted in the state largely bordering Pakistan. But the visit did open a floodgate of speculations.  The commonly held belief is that reason for the US team’s being in Srinagar and meeting the state governor and military officers has been worsening situation in Afghanistan. And understanding if it had any implication for the state.  It also wanted to know the situation in the state and    along the LOC.    

The question arises that does Obama Administration continue to see the resolution of Kashmir problem as gateway to peace not only in Afghanistan but in whole of South Asian region or this perception has died with death of Mr. Holbrooke. Mr. Holbrooke notwithstanding Kashmir not being part of his brief looked at a Kashmir as an important factor to peace in the region that is what brought him to New Delhi many time. But his successor Marc Grossman has not     shown as much of an interest in Kashmir and overall his working as an envoy in the region does not hold any promise for bringing peace in the region.

The United State needs Pakistan in Afghanistan    at the point of endgame as it needed it in its “war on terror. The statistic compiled by the National Counterterrorism Centre and issued by the State Department on Friday indicates that in Afghanistan, terrorist attacks jumped by 55.6 percent last year. It would not be an overstatement to say that Afghanistan is becoming as good graveyard for USA as it became for Russia formerly Soviet union. Sending of thirty thousand young Americans against saner advice has proved a bad strategy. “More US troops have died in Afghanistan during Obama’s during years than in Bush’s two terms.” And despite drawdown announcement there are indications that the violence in Afghanistan at the Obama’s end of first term will be more than it was at the start.   The US primary concern     in the region is peace in Afghanistan and McCain’s visit to Srinagar was more exploratory about this peace than about US ties with New Delhi.

True, he   made Kashmir related statements quite savory to the host country but underlining theme was that without resolving Kashmir, peace in the region is an impossibility.

(Feedback at zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com)