August 2003 News

Kashmir The Talk Of Washington

14 August 2003
Asia Times Online
Ramtanu Maitra

Hong Kong: The hesitant movements by New Delhi and Islamabad to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) dispute are making Washington decidedly jittery. On roller skates, Washington seems to be more concerned about movement and less about direction. In May, when Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced that he would begin talks with Pakistan to resolve all bilateral disputes, including the 50- year old J&K one, he also put on the condition that such talks would be meaningful only if Pakistan stopped cross-border terrorism across the Line of Control (LoC) that separates the Indian and Pakistan- administered sections of J&K. That Washington chose to ignore this condition was neither surprising nor out of character for the Bush administration. Instead, US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, at a press conference in Islamabad on May 8, addressed jointly with Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Ahmed Kasuri, pointed out that he had brought up in his meeting with Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf the issues of alleged cross- border infiltration and the dismantling of training camps in Azad (Free) Kashmir, that portion of Kashmir administered by Pakistan. When asked if Pakistan had done enough to address the alleged infiltration problem, Armitage replied, 'We are not keeping score. Any violence is bad. But it is down from the same time last year. Anyone suffering [because of violence] is a cause of concern. President Musharraf has told me nothing is happening at the Line of Control. He said that there are no camps in Azad Kashmir and if there are, they will be gone by tomorrow.' No more promises Needless to say, Armitage's statements did not go down very well in New Delhi. On the other hand, it had already become evident to some analysts and policymakers in New Delhi that while the US could be of great help to India in many other areas, it will not be much of a help in solving any of India's disputes with its neighbor Pakistan. Washington is now trapped in a deep hole, otherwise known as Afghanistan, and it is inconceivable at this point for the US even to hope of ever climbing out of this pit and working out a face- saving formula without having Pakistan as its friend. Antagonizing Pakistan, or India, over J&K in order to end the bilateral dispute of those two countries is no longer a part of the American agenda, although their nuclear capability is of ongoing concern. The apparent lack of direction in the Bush administration on Kashmir does not mean that it has lost its interest there. The US's political spectrum consists of a variety of operators, motivators and idealists. Now that Islamabad and New Delhi are involved in a complex dance, it is only natural that various interest groups within the US should voice their opinions. The July 1 off-the-record conference, Kashmir Revisited, organized by the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, was one such event. It was shunned by the Indian invitees from India, but Pakistani and Indian scholars based in the US, along with a Kashmiri study group representative, participated. The event involved two panels of experts from India, Pakistan, the US and Britain who discussed the current situation and prospects for dialog in the future. The audience included US government employees and academics from the US and South Asia. Attendance was by invitation only. The State Department, playing down the event, made clear that the conference was far from extraordinary, noting that it organizes many similar events on a range of topics. And a similar 'quiet' conference on Kashmir was held by the same agency with support from the Policy Planning Bureau in late April, 2001. At that time, the event was described by a State Department official as 'policy neutral', and the only reason that it was not open to the public was to encourage an 'open exchange of views' among the participants. The quiet conference According to available information, the July 1 conference was not quite 'policy neutral'. While some claimed that the event was designed to set up a road map for the Kashmir dispute, others did not quite agree to such a label. But, according to the Pakistani media, which ostensibly received a briefing from the participants, the event at least made clear why the US continues to keep its attention riveted on Kashmir. As a footnote to the roadmap concept, one must note that a Pakistani newspaper, The News, had reported earlier that the US had set a roadmap which would lead to a permanent solution of the Kashmir dispute before December 2004. Even a top leader in Azad Kashmi, Sardar Sikandar Hayat, acknowledged in an interview with the BBC that a solution to the core issue of Kashmir was 'soon' to be realized. To begin with, the US continues to worry about the worst-case scenario in the event of hostilities breaking out between India and Pakistan over Kashmir - all-out nuclear exchanges. Other observations were more interesting. Discussions at the event made it clear that the US has come to the conclusion that India has not managed to resolve the Kashmir dispute, either through the ruthless counter-insurgency route or through the 'internal political track' route. This means that Washington does not place much faith in the outcome of last year's much-heralded elections in J&K. In fact, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a major think tank on South Asian affairs, in a post-mortem of the elections made it clear that the absence of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference from the poll rosters was a clear indication that the elections 'did not really resolve the question of who speaks for the Kashmiris'. Another worry of the US emerging from the discussions was that the politically unresolved Kashmir dispute and deaths of Kashmiri people reinforced misgivings among Muslims globally of a pronounced anti-Muslim bias among the powerful and influential in India. Kashmir, they believe, has the potential to contribute a new batch of Islamic radicals to the existing pool of anti-US terrorists, almost in the same way the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan did in the 1980s. Washington is concerned that a closer relationship with India, which is now very much in the works, may make the US a bigger target for the terrorists bred and trained in Kashmir. Because of this distinct possibility, finding a solution to the Kashmir dispute is essential. This suggests that at least some at the policymaking level would throw their support into converting the LoC into an international boundary. As a corollary, one would expect increasing pressure from the US on both India and Pakistan - particularly on India - to start fresh talks. Second conference Following the 'quiet' conference organized by the State Department, a two-day (July 24-25) conference was held in Washington. Billed as the International Kashmir Peace Conference, the event was organized by the Kashmiri American Council (KAC), which included Senator Tom Harkins and Congressman Joseph Pitts. The conference posed two questions - how to promote dialogue between Indians, Pakistanis and Kashmiris, and how to provide humanitarian assistance? Besides American diplomats and scholars, the conference was attended by delegates from Pakistan, India and Kashmir. The conference, to which Indian ambassador to the US, Lalit Mansingh, sent his speech, called for attempts to find common ground between India and Pakistan for peace in the troubled region. Participants at a roundtable on the concluding day felt that there was a need to connect Kashmiris on both sides of the LoC, even before the expected talks between Delhi and Islamabad are scheduled. An aide to Pitts, who delivered the inaugural address, said that lawmakers will share all the information gathered at the conference with colleagues in Congress. One of the issues that permeated the discussions was the participation of Kashmiris in any dialogue between India and Pakistan. 'Holding bilateral dialogue without the Kashmiris is not going to solve any problems,' Ghulam Nabi Fai, president of the KAC, told rediff.com, echoing the sentiments of many speakers. 'A forum for intra-Kashmiri dialogues is a must as soon as possible because things are not going to improve overnight,' said Dr Attiya Inayatullah, a former minister in Pakistan. Similar sentiments were expressed by Ved Bhasin, editor of the Kashmir Times. 'Apart from dialogue between India and Pakistan, the most important thing now is to have dialogue between Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control,' said Bhasin. 'This will help change the ground situation,' he added. In essence, what emerged from the second conference was an agreement within a section of American policymakers. This view calls for the participation of Kashmiris themselves in the dispute-resolution process. The question, however, is whether this view calls for looking afresh at the possibility of forming an independent Kashmir, and if so, at what level such support lies. It is also evident that the faction within American policymakers who have become closer to India will not endorse this policy. At this point, New Delhi has formed alliances with the American-Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC). Non-resident Indians have formed the US- India Political Action Committee (USINPAC) and have formed a coalition with those two powerful Jewish lobbies. Needless to say, all three - AIPAC, AJC and the USINPAC - have similar views on how to resolve the Kashmir issue. In fact, the USINPAC, which was formed in September last year, is now involved in the joint lobbying with pro-Israel groups to block arms sales to Pakistan and adding an amendment to the aid to Pakistan promised recently by President George W Bush. The amendment, sponsored by Eni F H Faleomavaega (Democrat-American Samoa), requires the Bush administration to report to Congress steps Pakistan takes to close terrorist camps in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, to stop militants from crossing into India across the LoC, and to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction. USINPAC executive director Sanjay Puri told newspeople recently that even though Jewish groups have no direct interest in the Kashmir issue, they are supporting USINPAC to push through the amendment. According to the Indian lobbyists, a small but vocal group sympathetic to Kashmiri terrorists within the US Congress, however, had urged then president Bill Clinton to declare India a sponsor of terrorism. The Indians fear that this group may well rake up once again the Kashmir autonomy issue in the near future. The Washington-based Kashmir Study Group proposed sovereignty for Kashmir, with or without India and Pakistan, in its report entitled 'Kashmir: A Way Forward, February 2000'. The New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, in its report issued in 2002, pointed out that both India and Pakistan pay lip service to Kashmiri self- determination, but neither supports independence, as some Kashmiris do. Since the 1998 nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan, several international efforts have been made to bring peace to Kashmir, but hardliners in both countries see compromise on Kashmir as a fundamental betrayal of their nations. Some Kashmiri groups pursue nonviolent solutions to the conflict, as does the United Nations. However, the reinforced US interest in containing hostility between India and Pakistan could lead to progress on Kashmir. Another line of thinking, as exhibited by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is also making rounds. According to its study, the two countries have been asked to look seriously at the economic dimensions of a Kashmir settlement. 'This has been a neglected issue but is critical for the everyday lives of Kashmiris and a vital aspect of any sustainable peace,' says the recommendation. It is also planned that CSIS and the Kashmir Study Group, an initiative launched by the US-based Kashmiri millionaire Farooq Kathwari, will examine this issue in greater depth in the belief that it is the nucleus of a more open and stable South Asia. The US, says the report, should use its aid program to encourage the development of small-scale irrigation and run-of-the- river power generation on both sides of Kashmir, working within the limits of the Indus Waters Treaty. The CSIS study calls Kashmir an economically stagnant region. Until the 1980s, the Kashmir Valley, notes the report, the heart of subcontinent, had four major economic sectors tourism, handicrafts, horticulture and woodworking. All four were devastated once the insurgency started. Conclusion There is, however, little doubt that the US, despite the difficulties it faces in the region and worldwide, will not sit on the sidelines on the Kashmir issue. Secretary of State Colin Powell, briefing the media on his plane to Bangkok in late July, clarified what he meant by saying that Kashmir was now on the international agenda. When asked if his reference to Kashmir was 'some sort of a code word', Powell said, 'No. I just meant the way I said it. It is on the international agenda. Everybody is now focused on it.' Similar commitment was also issued earlier by Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser. She told the media on June 27 that Bush had committed America's influence 'to alleviating - and, where possible, ending - destructive regional conflicts, from the Middle East, to Kashmir, to the Congo and beyond.'

 

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