Powell rules out mediatory role for US, plebiscite in Kashmir
16 January 2002
The Daily Excelsior
Islamabad: Secretary of State Colin Powell tonight rejected a mediatory role for the United States in resolving disputes between India and Pakistan but said he is carrying ''some ideas'' to New Delhi for initiating a dialogue between the two countries on several issues, including Kashmir. He, however, made it clear that the immediate aim is de- escalation of political and military tensions. After talks with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on the first leg of his South Asian tour, Powell was asked at a press conference whether he would commend to India a plebiscite in Kashmir to resolve the issue in the light of his statement earlier in the day that the problem could be resolved in accordance with the wishes of the people. ''No, I was not suggesting anything specific,'' he said. Musharraf, in his last week’s address, had sought Washington’s mediation to resolve the Kashmir issue. Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said at the press conference with Powell today that US was in a ''unique'' position to resolve the disputes. In a subtle but significant shift in US stand, Powell said ''Kashmir is a very difficult issue. The solution of the problem lies through dialogue between India and Pakistan and in the course of the dialogue there will be many issues that will be discussed.'' He said that would be the thrust and US would encourage both sides for a dialogue which could find the wishes of the people of the region. Powell said tomorrow when he meets External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and other Indian leaders in New Delhi he would be reviewing the outstanding issues. ''We have some ideas which we will share with them (India) before we share with the world.'' Powell said the US would keep its efforts on political track and see that both the rhetoric and diplomatic and military tensions are reduced. Asked if US would act as a facilitator of Indo-Pak talks, he said he would like to see that the two sides begin a dialogue. ''I would like to get the two sides talk to one another. If the two sides want US and other countries, we stand ready to assist. They have to reach out and for their assistance they will find America waiting with their hands ready to stand by.'' At this point, Sattar interjected to say that Powell was right now involved in high-level diplomacy. Powell said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Musharraf were looking at possible solutions as both understood that resolution of issues should be through diplomatic means. He said that in his handling of the issues in the last several weeks, ''I think we have made some progress.'' Asked what Musharraf should do more in the campaign against terrorism, Powell said he has done a great deal in recent times and he was sure he would do more. ''I will take to India what I have heard and seen here. I have had discussions. We will review the situation and see what we can do to move down for a political and diplomatic de-escalation of the situation,'' the Secretary of State said. He said they could find ways of de-escalation, politically and diplomatically. There will be military de-escalation through political and diplomatic steps and not through conflict. Powell said they were all in the campaign against terrorism and not in a campaign in which the two countries would be fighting with each other. When a Pakistani journalist asked Powell if he was taking any proposal to New Delhi for reducing tension on borders, violence in Kashmir and taking action against extremists in India, the US Secretary of State said ''there is no society that is free from extremist groups.'' He said terrorists kill innocent people to realise their objectives and he would speak about terrorism in India. To a question, Sattar said if one looked at the sequence of events, Pakistan has been consistently fighting terrorism in the last two years under an agenda. He said the response of Jaswant Singh to Musharraf’s measures was ''uncharacteristically positive'' and ''we welcome that.'' Sattar said it was for both countries to recognise that tension did not serve the interests of either India or Pakistan and that the road to the future was through peace. He regretted that the Agra summit did not produce results. Sattar said the focus was now on borders as even a small incident could spark a chain of incidents that would not be in the interest of the two countries. ''It is necessary to move calculatedly to de-escalation and disengagement. We will respond to any initiative that India takes towards this,'' the Pakistan Foreign Minister said. In his opening statement, Powell appreciated Musharraf’s role in the campaign against terrorism in Afghanistan and his vision of rooting out this scourge from Pakistani society. He said it would take time to realise his objectives but Musharraf has expressed his willingness to take on terrorism ''wherever it occurs, including Kashmir.'' Powell said Musharraf’s promises would go a long way in lowering of tensions in the region and welcomed his stand of resolving the issues through dialogue with India. Sattar, in his statement, said Pakistan told Powell today that the US had to address the root cause of the tension between India and Pakistan by addressing the Kashmir question. ''The US is blessed with a unique quality of leadership to resolve the issue in accordance with well- recognised principles,'' he said. Powell also came out with careful and measured answers to the questions about the growing India-US defence ties as well as the current visit of Defence Minister George Fernandes to US. He said US hopes to have good cooperation and relations with both India and Pakistan. US wants to build strong and all round relations with both the countries in all fields including defence, he said. The military cooperation with the two countries would be such that it would not poise to destablise the region, specially when it came to the sale of weapons, he said adding that he wanted Fernandes visit to be seen in this light. ''We will now have to start looking for steps that will de-escalate the situation, I think President Musharraf’s speech was not only historic but de-escalatory on his part. Hopefully, in future there will be military de- escalation as well,'' he said. Powell said ''most importantly, the people of Pakistan are behind him (Musharraf). They support what he is doing''. Powell said President George Bush is committed to working to help create the conditions that would lead to a dialogue between the mistrustful neighbours, but said they would have to begin it themselves.