April 2001 News

Bush advised to change US Kashmir line

27 April 2001
The Asian Age
Ashish Kumar Sen

San Francisco: In sharp contrast to the Clinton administration’s policy not to mediate in the Kashmir issue unless both India and Pakistan ask for it, an influential former deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs has noted that both countries are unlikely to settle their differences without outside help. “The challenge for American diplomacy will be to find ways of assisting this process without triggering India’s still strong allergy to outside involvement. The time to start this is soon: the process will be long and time is not working in favour of peace,” Ms Teresita C. Schaffer has said in a report put together after a recent visit to both countries. A director of the South Asia programme at the Washington, D.C.-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Ms Schaffer visited India and Pakistan between February 25 and March 14. In an interview with The Asian Age, Ms Schaffer spoke briefly about her report, which she said was intended for private circulation and not for the media. However, sources who have read the report quoted extensively from the document in which Ms Schaffer observed that while India would like to start talks with the Kashmiris, persuade them to participate in state elections, and then deal with Pakistan, it had “no strategy to make this happen.” “The Kashmiris are divided. Pakistan is eager for talks with India but not willing to abandon support for the militancy.” The Clinton administration, after initially flip-flopping over the Kashmir issue, especially during Ms Robin Raphel’s tenure as assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, had asserted that for the Kashmir dispute to be resolved there needed to be restraint, respect for the Line of Control, renunciation of violence, and renewal of dialogue. This has been Washington’s official line on Kashmir since then, and the Bush administration has, so far, not publicised a different line of thought. At a press conference prior to his visit to India last March, former President Bill Clinton said unless specifically asked by both India and Pakistan to help settle the Kashmir dispute the US could not get involved. “I think we might be in a position to make a constructive contribution. But if they don’t want us, it won’t be doing any good; we’d just be out there talking into the air,” Mr Clinton had said at the time. Ms Schaffer said Pakistan had made a significant adjustment in its formal approach to Kashmir. “They are making a conscious effort to develop a line that will lead to a dialogue with India, but they are clearly not yet prepared to squelch the insurgency,” she said. “If one wants a stable situation in Kashmir all the players — the Indians, the Pakistanis and the Kashmiris — need to be involved to get a serious process going,” she added. She was concerned that the “window of opportunity” created by Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Kashmir ceasefire last December was running out of steam and, as a consequence, India-Pakistan relations were slipping back into their usual unproductive rut. However, she hoped Mr K.C. Pant, picked by Mr Vajpayee to mediate a dialogue with the Kashmiris, would be able to reactivate some of the goodwill. “Among the most hawkish elements, there is apparently one school of thought that India’s position in Kashmir is about to crumble, but this is not the prevailing view,” she said in her report, according to sources. In Pakistan, Ms Schaffer noted, the military government’s honeymoon was “long gone.” Sources said Ms Schaffer had underscored General Pervez Musharraf’s unwillingness to confront militant organisations in his 18 months in office, corroborating this opinion with similar views from observers that Pakistan’s Chief Executive simply cannot crack the whip, even if he wanted to because the militants represent the popular Kashmiri cause. “But it appears that Gen. Musharraf has consciously or unconsciously made an implicit bargain with them (the militants): because their activities in Afghanistan and Kashmir are vital to Pakistan’s strategic goals, they will be allowed considerable domestic freedom of action,” the sources quoted the report as saying. In Ms Schaffer’s view, the militants represent a “significant challenge” to state authority and are likely to push Pakistan toward greater instability, both internally and in the region. Ms Schaffer said in India, every statement from the Bush administration is scrutinised for signs of emerging administration attitudes towards India. “Some see an administration determined to put in place NMD and TMD, opposed to CTBT, apparently willing to move away from the ABM treaty, and apparently sceptical of universal regimes and open-ended commitments on arms control or non-proliferation.” Ms Schaffer said she was repeatedly asked whether this represented an opportunity for the United States and India to find common ground. “There is also considerable interest in building up de facto collaboration with the US against China.” Besides India-Pakistan relations, India’s Budget was another area she focused on during her trip. Describing the Budget as “a very forward looking one” she hastened to add that her big concern was its implementation. “The Tehelka tapes controversy, which broke soon after I left India, has become a big distraction,” she said. The controversy illustrated the “ease of distracting a coalition government and the speed with which its opponents resort to parliamentary shouting matches.” “The crisis has cost the government time and momentum on what had looked like a very progressive and reform-oriented budget,” she said. In her report, sources said, Ms Schaffer noted that the government’s fortunes depend heavily on Mr Vajpayee’s leadership — “steadier now that his health is better, but still uneven” — and on his ability to keep the BJP’s “right-wing relatives on board without being derailed by their stridency.” The Congress party, she observed, was in a far worse shape at the national level than had been apparent last year. “Sonia Gandhi has been an ineffective head and an even worse parliamentary leader.”

 

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