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Bill Clinton To... Kashmir?

As we wait to see whether Hillary Clinton will become Barack Obama's Secretary of State slot, here's a colorful little footnote to get us thinking about the Clintons and the globe. It seems that many media outlets in India and Pakistan believe there's a plan afoot for Obama to designate Bill Clinton as his special envoy to mediate the intractable Kashmir standoff along those countries' disputed border. The notion originates from a seemingly offhand pre-election comment Obama made to Time's Joe Klein:

OBAMA: Working with Pakistan and India to try to resolve, and Kashmir, crisis in a serious way. Those are all critical tasks for the next administration. Kashmir in particular is an interesting situation where that is obviously a potential tar pit diplomatically. But, for us to devote serious diplomatic resources to get a special envoy in there, to figure out a plausible approach, and essentially make the argument to the Indians, you guys are on the brink of being an economic superpower, why do you want to keep on messing with this? To make the argument to the Pakistanis, look at India and what they are doing, why do you want to keep n being bogged down with this particularly at a time where the biggest threat now is coming from the Afghan boarder? I think there is a moment where potentially we could get their attention. It won’t be easy, but it’s important.

KLEIN: Sounds like a job for Bill Clinton.

OBAMA: Might not be bad. I actually talked to Bill, I talked to President Clinton about this when we had lunch in Harlem.

I draw a few lessons from this story. One, even passing comments by an American leader take on a life of their own--sometimes with absurd, half-informed conspiratorial garnishing--in the foreign media. (Sometimes the opposite can also be true. Consider this headline: "India Reels Over Obama's Silence." The problem here was that Obama had not called New Delhi within 120 hours of his election. For the record, he checked in later that day.)

Two, maybe it wasn't an offhand comment! It's possible Obama has been thinking about using the Clintons this way since before the election. Perhaps he even has notions of deploying both Hillary and Bill around the globe. (He does have quite a long to-do list, after all.)

Three, whether or not Bill Clinton has a role, the larger question here is critical. Kashmir may seem eye-glazing until you realize its importance to Afghanistan, whose instability is tied to Pakistania paranoia over Indian influence. Mediating, however, is easier said than done: While Pakistan welcomes a US diplomatic role, India wants no such thing. (The Bush administration has more or less ignored Kashmir. Obama's recent letter to the Indian prime minister focused on nuclear cooperation, security and disarmament but made no mention of Kashmir or Pakistan.)

Bonus: While Googling for this item I came across the following passage in a column by a former Indian government minister:

Bangladesh's regret is over the defeat of Senator John McCain, who had adopted a Bangladeshi girl.

All politics is local, I suppose.

--Michael Crowley