India’s stealth lobbying against Holbrooke's brief?

India’s stealth lobbying against Holbrooke's brief
Foreign Policy, The Cable, January 23, 2009

When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- flanked by President Obama -- introduced Richard Holbrooke as the formidable new U.S. envoy to South Asia at a State Department ceremony on Thursday, India was noticeably absent from his title.

Holbrooke, the veteran negotiator of the Dayton accords and sharp-elbowed foreign policy hand who has long advised Clinton, was officially named "special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan" in what was meant to be one of the signature foreign policy acts of Obama's first week in office.

But the omission of India from his title, and from Clinton's official remarks introducing the new diplomatic push in the region was no accident -- not to mention a sharp departure from Obama's own previously stated approach of engaging India, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan, in a regional dialogue. Multiple sources told The Cable that India vigorously -- and successfully -- lobbied the Obama transition team to make sure that neither India nor Kashmir was included in Holbrooke's official brief.

"When the Indian government learned Holbrooke was going to do [Pakistan]-India, they swung into action and lobbied to have India excluded from his purview," relayed one source. "And they succeeded. Holbrooke's account officially does not include India."

To many Washington South Asia experts, the decision to not include India or Kashmir in the official Terms of Reference of Holbrooke's mandate was not just appropriate, but absolutely necessary. Given India's fierce, decades-long resistance to any internationalization of the Kashmir dispute, to have done so would have been a non-starter for India, and guaranteed failure before the envoy mission had begun, several suggested.

"Leaving India out of the title actually opens up [Holbrooke's] freedom to talk to them," argued Philip Zelikow, a former counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who served until December as a consultant for a lobbying firm, BGR, retained by the Indian Government.

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