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India's Quiet Diplomatic Coup: Kashmir Eliminated From U.S. Envoy's Mandate

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At a news briefing Tuesday, State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood said Kashmir was not part of Holbrooke's mandate.

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"His mandate is to go out and try to help bring stability to Afghanistan, working closely with Pakistan," Wood said. "India has some very clear views as to what it wants to do vis-a-vis dealing with the Kashmir issue, as well as the Pakistanis."

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

Holbrooke was originally tasked as the special envoy for Afghanistan, Pakistan "and related matters," code for India and Kashmir, according to a U.S. official in Washington who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person is not authorized to speak publicly. But on the morning Holbrooke's posting was announced, "related matters" had been deleted from the description.

Wood said at a briefing Thursday that Holbrooke would stop at the Munich Conference on Security Policy on Tuesday before heading to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the border region is a haven for Taliban fighters and where Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have yet to comment on the Kashmir decision. But other South Asia experts say that taking Kashmir out of Holbrooke's hands may upset Pakistan and that there may be back-channel negotiations anyway.

"Intellectually, it is impossible to disentangle these problems from each other," said Daniel Markey, a South Asia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. "The smartest thing is to work on this behind the scenes."

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