India will bite if US ‘mediation’ in Kashmir is renamed
31 October 2001
The Indian Express
Washington DC: Kashmir has been a South Asian quagmire that the United States has avoided for decades. But the Afghanistan conflict makes it increasingly likely Washington will be drawn into fresh peacemaking with India and Pakistan over the region, experts and US officials say. ''Unless some outside force, whether the United States or another country, plays some role—not as a mediator certainly, not as an arbitrator... but as a facilitator - in a quiet way, you won''t get any effective movement towards the management of the Kashmir issue, let alone its resolution,'' said Howard Schaffer of Georgetown University''s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy. In the past two years, and especially since the Sept 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Washington''s relations with India and Pakistan have improved dramatically, creating what experts believe are new opportunities even as regional tensions mount. ''My sense is that the United States now simultaneously enjoys better relations with both countries... than in any period over the last 50 years. That gives the United States bona fides with both India and Pakistan,'' Schaffer said. Since Sept. 11, Pakistan has become a front- line ally as Americans wage an assault in Afghanistan on Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, his Al Qaeda network and Taliban leaders accused by Washington of being behind the attacks. India, which shares a border with Pakistan but not with Afghanistan, was even quicker to offer support, including intelligence sharing, for the US anti-terror campaign. Before taking office last January, the Bush administration made clear its desire to forge improved ties with India. In the aftermath of Sept 11, Washington followed through on pre-existing plans to lift sanctions on India and Pakistan related to nuclear tests conducted in May 1998. Also, it rushed to provide economically- weak Pakistan with billions of dollars in new aid in an effort to prop up both the country and its president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. In the 1950s and 1960s, Washington tried to be a regional peacemaker, offering a range of inducements to try to resolve the Kashmir problem, but has made no comparable efforts since, according to Stephen Cohen''s new book, ''India Rising.'' Kashmir has taken on new significance in the current climate, since India accuses Pakistan of backing Islamic militants allied with bin Laden and Al Qaeda who have been fighting Indian troops in Kashmir. Traditionally, India has rejected outside mediation in Kashmir, while Pakistan encouraged a US and international role. Now, officials and experts believe India may be willing to accommodate a US role as long as it is not called anything formal like ''mediation'' and as long as it occurs discreetly. Just how the Bush administration - focused now on fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban abroad and an anthrax scare at home - might take advantage of this opening is unclear. Publicly US officials have urged India and Pakistan to halt the fighting in Kashmir and to resume a dialogue that has been frozen since last July. When President George W. Bush next month meets Prime Minster Atal Behari Vajpayee in Washington and Musharraf in New York, he is expected to reinforce this message, as well as underscore that revived ties with Pakistan do not mean the US is abandoning an incipient strategic relationship with India. US officials have said they have no blueprint for Kashmir and have no intention of micromanaging the province, believing it is up to the people of Kashmir to find a solution. But a senior US official acknowledged ''this is a serious dispute that could lead to all sorts of escalation'' and the US is ''prepared to be helpful'' if the two sides want that. Analysts at a conference sponsored by the Iowa-based Stanley Foundation last weekend said Musharraf could go a long way towards ending the violence in Kashmir by forcing the withdrawal of non-Kashmiri militants fighting the Indians.