Powell remarks on Kashmir draw flak
29 July 2002
NEW DELHI: Political parties — ruling as well as those in the opposition — have reacted sharply to the observations of the United States Secretary of State, Colin Powell, on Kashmir, and emphatically rejected his suggestion that India invite international observers to monitor the elections to the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly later this year. Their reaction to his statement that Kashmir was ''on the international agenda'' was equally strong. The Congress, the CPI (M) and the CPI laid the blame for this state of affairs squarely on the Vajpayee Government, which, they said, had ''rushed'' to the United States and repeatedly solicited Washington''s help in its stand-off with Pakistan. As for the Bharatiya Janata Party, its president, Venkaiah Naidu, said rather politely but sternly that ''the only role which the international community, especially the United States, shall play at the present moment is to prevail upon Pakistan to immediately end its policy of cross-border terrorism...'' He also ''emphatically rejected'' the American suggestion on inviting international observers, noting that ''this is an interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country... whose democratic credentials are recognised internationally.'' Taking strong exception to Gen. Powell''s statement that Kashmir was part of the international agenda, the Congress leader, Natwar Singh, said that the observation was not in tune with the friendly relations between India and the U.S. He demanded that the Government make a statement in Parliament to clarify its position (although the External Affairs Minister, Yashwant Sinha, is away till August 2 to attend the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting). All the parties had agreed that the Shimla Accord and the Lahore Declaration formed the ''bedrock of India-Pakistan relations,'' Mr. Singh said. The issues between them must be resolved bilaterally. It was the first time that a distinguished U.S. visitor had spoken thus. Not even the three former U.S. Presidents — Eisenhower in 1959, Nixon in 1969 and Carter in 1978 — had talked in this manner about Kashmir during their visits to India. While the Congress had protested the former U.S. President, Bill Clinton''s reference to Kashmir as a ''dispute,'' Gen. Powell''s stance was ''unacceptable not only to the Congress but the whole country,'' he said, implying — though not saying so directly — that the Vajpayee Government had allowed this to happen, even if unwittingly. The CPI (M) politburo described Gen. Powell''s statement as a ''direct interference in the affairs of Kashmir'' and said it was ''the result of the Vajpayee Government''s consistent efforts to make the U.S. the arbiter in Indo-Pakistan relations.'' The party had warned earlier that the ''pro-U.S. policy'' would ''reduce India to the same status as Pakistan in its relations with the U.S.'' The CPI was equally forthright. Gen. Powell''s remark that Kashmir was ''on the international agenda'' was the ''price India is now expected to pay for soliciting the help of the U.S. administration in its stand-off with Pakistan,'' it said in a statement. It had warned against ''snuggling up to the U.S.'' on purely domestic or bilateral issues as that would let America get a ''foothold in our affairs,'' and the BJP was guilty of having done just that. The BJP, of course, commended the Vajpayee Government for its outright rejection of the suggestion on international monitors by reminding Gen. Powell of ''five decades of well-tested traditions of holding free and fair polls.'' Mr. Naidu said the U.S. knew exactly what was happening in this region and it should act ''honestly and consistently,'' by making Pakistan behave in accordance with international law.