Holbrooke, New U.S. Envoy, Heading To Pakistan

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Richard Holbrooke, the new U.S. special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, will attend the international security conference in Germany over the weekend. Then he'll go on to Pakistan. While India isn't officially in Holbrooke's portfolio, he'll stop there, too.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

There was a time when it was almost impossible for an American diplomat to mention the world India without hyphenating it with Pakistan. Those two neighbors came as a package, bound together by their mutual hostility, their nukes, and their never-ending dispute over the territory of Kashmir. That's changed. Richard Holbrooke is the new U.S. envoy to the region and will soon set off on his first official trip there. His brief includes Pakistan and Afghanistan, but not India.

We're joined by NPR's South Asia correspondent Philip Reeves, who's in India's capital, New Delhi.

Hello.

PHILIP REEVES: Hi.

MONTAGNE: Now, Phil, I gather there's an interesting story about why the U.S. envoy, Richard Holbrooke, doesn't have India included in what he's supposed to do there. Tell us about that.

REEVES: Well, Indian government officials publicly deny this, but I don't think there's much doubt that before Richard Holbrooke's appointment, India lobbied very hard, indeed, behind the scenes to make sure that India wasn't officially included, in the terms of reference for his job, alongside Pakistan and Afghanistan. And India's efforts paid off, because it's officially not in those terms of reference. That said, Holbrooke is actually coming to Delhi during his forthcoming trip.

MONTAGNE: Why are the Indians so opposed to being bracketed with Pakistan?

REEVES: India sees itself as having a completely new strategic relationship with the U.S., if you like, particularly after the recent agreement that it struck with Washington ending the ban on transferring nuclear technology to India. It sees itself now as a rising power, and it doesn't really want to be bracketed with what it perceives as, you know, the problem nations on the block - Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But the most important aspect, I think, is the conflict over Kashmir. India wants to avoid any arrangement that would enable Pakistan to bring pressure on India to reach a settlement on Kashmir by including the U.S., perhaps as a mediator - for example, by linking the Kashmir issue with Pakistan's efforts to eradicate the Taliban along its western border, the tribal belt which abuts Afghanistan.

MONTAGNE: Explain to us a little more about that, why India's so worried about Kashmir getting into this discussion, if you will.

REEVES: Well, before being sworn into office, President Obama made some comments about Kashmir that caused a frisson of worry in India. He talked about trying to resolve the Kashmir crisis, so that Pakistan can focus on dealing with the issue of the militants in its tribal belt rather than on its relationship with India, which is tense and particularly tense now, after the attack on the Indian city of Mumbai late last year.

India just doesn't want the Kashmir issue internationalized. It doesn't want an American mediator. The U.S. has tried to calm India's nerves over this by saying that Richard Holbrooke won't be raising the Kashmir issue when he comes to India.

MONTAGNE: Well, does all this suggest that India's worried about the Obama administration?

REEVES: Well, when President Obama was elected, this was very warmly welcomed, indeed, in India. The media was extremely enthusiastic. You talk to people around New Delhi, the capital, and they're all very positive, really, about the arrival of President Obama in office. But President Bush was considered here as an unwavering ally of India - by the government, at least. So the government is now talking pretty enthusiastically about the Obama administration, but the truth is they're not quite sure what to expect. And there is a certain nervousness, I would say.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much, Phil.

REEVES: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Philip Reeves, speaking from New Delhi.

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