Kashmir is on international agenda: Powell
28 July 2002
The Daily Excelsior
New Delhi: Holding that Kashmir was on the international agenda, US Secretary of State Colin Powell today favoured independent observers and freeing political prisoners to enhance the credibility of coming Assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir which India did not completely reject but ruled out formal observers to investigate or certify the elections. On his third visit in ten months as part of efforts to reduce Indo- Pak tensions, Powell, who met Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today, told a press conference that ''Kashmir is on the international agenda....We look forward concrete steps by India to foster Kashmiri confidence in the election process. Permitting independent observers and freeing political prisoners would be helpful.'' Reacting to questions on Powell’s remarks, an External Affairs Ministry spokesperson said ''we have said very clearly that we don’t object to diplomatic or media representatives wishing to go to the State but not to investigate or certify the elections.'' Maintaining that elections alone could not resolve the problem between India and Pakistan, Powell said it could, however, be a first step in a broader process that begins to address Kashmiri grievances and leads the two countries back to dialogue. He said India believed that it was capable of conducting the elections without a formal monitoring system. The US has encouraged India to make it possible for ''outsiders'' to go to Kashmir because it would give greater credibility to results ''even if it isn’t an official global-sponsored monitored regime.'' Enough outsiders to see the campaign and the conduct of elections giving their individual impressions and statements would add a level of credibility to the polls that would benefit the Indian Government and the perceptions international community would have about the elections. To a question whether he favoured Hurriyat Conference constituents taking part in the elections, Powell said the polls should be as open as possible and groups that had demonstrated responsible action. On cross-border infiltration, he said there has been a reduction in infiltration level ''whether one would classify as marginally or not marginally I can’t answer''. ''But it seems clear from the information I have that infiltration is continuing and I think we must make every effort to end it,'' Powell added. He said it was important infiltration came to an end so that conditions could be created for dialogue and allow for peaceful, fair and open elections. Powell said he told External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha that moderate elements should be encouraged and that there should be release of those who have been detained who can play a positive role in generating turnout in the polls. ''I will be speaking to the Pakistan side about taking every effort to avoid disturbing these elections,'' the US official said, adding the message to both sides was that without a safe and open political process, the international community may not get the elections in a proper way and an opportunity may have been lost. Maintaining that there was no ambiguity on disallowing formal observers to investigate or certify the elections, the Indian spokesperson said it would be inaccurate to draw the inference or to come a conclusion that Powell made a pitch for international and formal observers. He fully understood India’s views on the matter. ''We pointed out that whosoever obtains visas for India is free to travel to any part of the country including J and K although Non-Governmental Organisations and other groups which may seek formal status as observers will not be permitted,'' the spokesperson said. She said ''we do not need prescriptions or advice from international observers or self-styled monitors on conduct of elections. We have conducted free and fair elections in this country for fifty years.'' On Powell’s suggestion that political prisoners in J and K should be released for the elections to be inclusive, she said the issue was not raised at any level during the parleys and the US official only stressed that polls should be free and fair and held in an atmosphere without violence. She said the prisoners were in jail because they have gone against the law of the country and trafficked with terrorists. Powell’s remarks about political prisoners were made in the context of overall situation and the need to create an atmosphere for conducting free and fair polls, she added. About Powell’s contention that ''Kashmir is on the international agenda,'' she said there has always been efforts by friends in the international community to see reduction in tensions and promote growth and stability. The US made it perfectly clear that this and other outstanding issues between India and Pakistan have to be discussed bilaterally within the understandings of the Shimla agreement. The spokesperson denied the US was trying to provide prescriptions to India.. ''I did not detect any attempt on their part to be prescriptive,'' she said adding ''there is a clear focus on the crucial issue of the war against terrorism.'' On Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf''s statement in the presence of Powell in Islamabad today that cross-border infiltration has ended, she rejected it as ''terminological inexactitude''. She said there has been a spurt in infiltration of terrorists in the last few weeks. ''I do not want to be undiplomatic in my reaction to that. Let me say that it is a terminological inexactitude. The fact is that infiltration continues,'' she said. The spokesperson said ''we are concerned about the infiltration in the last few weeks. We have conveyed this to powell. Apart from the US, our friends in the international community also recognise the fact that infiltration has not ended.''