Kashmir Is the Key to Peace in Afghanistan

Mohsin Raza/Reuters-Landov
Supporters of the Islamic political party Jamaat-i-Islami march on Kashmir Solidarity Day in Lahore.

By Jonathan Tepperman

Sometime in the past year, secret talks between India and Pakistan over Kashmir--which made great progress in 2008 before Pakistan's strongman, Pervez Musharraf, was ousted--were restarted, say U.S. and Indian sources. If successful, the negotiations would represent a huge breakthrough for the subcontinent. But the payoff would stretch even further. Solving Kashmir is looking increasingly essential to another conflict: Afghanistan. That makes the Obama administration's reluctance to engage with the issue hard to fathom.

To understand the link between Kashmir and Kabul, remember that the U.S. can't defeat the Taliban without help from Pakistan, which continues to shelter (and, allegedly, support) the Afghan insurgents. But that won't change until Pakistan resolves its rivalry with India. It is fear of India that keeps Pakistan from pulling enough troops off its eastern border to police the Afghan frontier (which Taliban members cross at will), and that explains Islamabad's desire to turn Afghanistan into a vassal state (giving Pakistan "strategic depth" in case of an Indian invasion). Only taking Kashmir--the main bone of contention with India--off the table could change this.

Given that fact, you'd expect the Obama team to be pushing the peace process forward. Instead, it has avoided the issue, largely because India erupts with rage whenever the U.S. tries to get involved. Thus Richard Holbrooke, Obama's AfPak envoy, says the U.S. won't consider stepping in.

Read an expanded version of this story here, from the 12/22 issue of NEWSWEEK