WASHINGTON, Jan 30: On India’s request, the US administration has kept the Kashmir dispute out of the portfolio of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke who was appointed President Barack Obama’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan last week.

“Eliminating … Kashmir from his job description … is seen as a significant diplomatic concession to India that reflects increasingly warm ties between the country and the United States,” the Washington Post noted in a report.

At a news briefing earlier this week, US State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood said Kashmir was not part of Mr Holbrooke’s mandate. “His mandate is to go out and try to help bring stability to Afghanistan, working closely with Pakistan,” he said. “India has some very clear views as to what it wants to do vis-à-vis dealing with the Kashmir issue, as well as the Pakistanis.”

When asked whether Mr Holbrooke would play a role if there were heightened tensions again over the Mumbai attacks, Mr Wood said: “I don’t want to speculate in terms of what he may or may not do, but his brief is focussed solely on, as I said, Afghanistan-Pakistan.”

Ambassador Holbrooke was originally tasked as the special envoy for Afghanistan, Pakistan “and related matters”, code for India and occupied Kashmir, a US official told the Post. But on the morning Mr Holbrooke’s posting was announced “related matters” had been deleted from the description.

The Post reported that Indian diplomats, worried about Mr Holbrooke’s tough-as-nails reputation, didn’t want him meddling in Kashmir.Ambassador Holbrooke is nicknamed “the Bulldozer” for arm-twisting warring leaders to the negotiating table as he hammered out the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the war in Bosnia.

“The public glee many Indians feel over their country’s latest diplomatic success … follows the government’s victory in securing a (nuclear) deal with the United States,” the report noted.

The deal gives India access to civilian nuclear technology, even though it is not a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and is seen by many Indians as the first step towards India’s recognition as a legitimate nuclear power.

The Post pointed out that India and Pakistan had made slow but steady progress on Kashmir over the past four years, but relations quickly chilled after the November attacks in Mumbai.

Brajesh Mishra, India’s former national security adviser, told the Post that no matter what government was in place, India was never going to relinquish control of Jammu and Kashmir. “That is written in stone and cannot be changed,” he added.

During the US presidential campaign, Mr Obama said the Kashmir issue was central to any stability in the region. But India opposes third-party intervention in the dispute, insisting Kashmir is an internal issue and should not be a part of any outsider’s mandate.

Mr Obama’s comments, however, had rekindled hopes in Pakistan that the Obama administration might play a greater role in seeking a negotiated settlement to the Kashmir dispute than previous US administrations had.

In interviews to various US news outlets, Indian officials warned Ambassador Holbrooke against “any high-profile intervention” in Kashmir, pointing out that it was so politically sensitive in India that it’s referred to as the “K-word.”

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