February 2002 News

Our first priority is to prevent war over Kashmir: U.S.

12 February 2002
Sridhar Krishnaswami
The Hindu

WASHINGTON: The United States says that its first priority is to prevent war between India and Pakistan and that all other things will fall in place after that. "The first and foremost priority is to prevent war over Kashmir between India and Pakistan," a senior Bush administration officials said briefing the media ahead of the Pakistan President, Pervez Musharrafs official working visit here. He was asked to comment on the fact that Washington regarded Kashmir as a disputed territory and had called for a settlement of the dispute taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people. Asked if the Bush administration would pursue a "pro- active" role between the two South Asian nations as desired by some law-makers, the official said there had been no change in the long-standing policy. "We are not looking to mediate, but to assist if the two parties ask," the official said. Washington hoped that the current tensions were reduced so that it did not detract from the other ongoing objectives such as Operation Enduring Freedom. "Tensions have been reduced greatly, but dangers are still out there," he said and added that while Washington was pleased with the reduction in tensions it would like to see a pullback of the strike forces. The official said the U.S. President, George W. Bush, was "very much looking forward to" the visit of Gen. Musharraf and in the discussions set for Wednesday at the White House. Focus on defence, trade ties Gen. Musharraf, who arrives here today from Boston on a three-day visit, is expected to discuss a wide range of issues, including defence ties, economic assistance and future cooperation on the war against terrorism. The tension in the subcontinent will also merit a great deal of attention. One expectation is that Gen. Musharraf will not keep Kashmir high on the agenda, but will try to impress on the Bush administration the need for Washington to get more Involved. But the Republican administration, which generally frowns on getting involved in disputes, is aware of the sensitivities of third- party involvement, especially New Delhi's objections. For Gen. Musharraf, the environment in Washington is completely different from what he would have witnessed if he had come five months ago. Pakistan and its military ruler were berated at every available opportunity then. But after the September 11 attacks, the "most sanctioned ally" is now free of all punitive measures and he Is undoubtedly looking for "more". Even In terms of personal equation with the U.S. President, George Bush, there has been a sea change. At the time of the Presidential campaigning in 2000, Mr. Bush could not pass a foreign policy "quiz" which asked him to name the leader of Pakistan. "The new Pakistani General, he's just been elected-not elected, this" guy took over the office," Mr. Bush remarked. But now at every available opportunity Mr. Bush does not fail to shower praise on Gen. Musharraf. The Musharraf visit is not going to be confined to just the atmospherics. The two countries are expected to take a number of steps on the road to putting a long-term and substantive perspective to the newly-evolved bilateral relations. And, in his meetings at the White House, Gen. Musharraf is expected to emphasise issues pertaining to economics, trade and defence. Pakistan's expectation, among other things, is for the administration to lighten up tariffs and quotas on textiles something that is not sitting well in the domestic political arena. The thinking now is that Mr. Bush will use his authority to increase the quota, but leave the tariff structure intact The trade package to Pakistan is being worked out, but the end product will have to address domestic concerns over and beyond "rewarding" an "ally" in the war against terrorism. But it is the package on defence that will merit a great deal of attention. Resumption of military training for Pakistani troops and some military exercises that could be announced aside, the real focus is on what Gen. Musharraf wants modem weapons and fighter aircraft and Mr. Bush's response.


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