February 2004 News

No solution without Kashmiris' consent: Wisner

24 February 2004
The Nation
Iftikhar Ali

NEW YORK: Calling the talks starting between India and Pakistan as 'the most promising' so far, a former US Ambassador to India says that there can be no solution to the Kashmir dispute without involving the Kashmiri people. Ambassador Frank Wisner, who served in India during the Clinton administration, said one reason for his optimism was that both Pakistani and Indian leaders were deeply involved and committed to a rapprochement. Mr. Wisner, who was a cochairman of an independent task force on South Asia co sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the Asia Society, was interviewed by Bernard Gwertzman, a journalist who is consulting editor for the Council. The interview was put on CFR's web site Tuesday. Mr. Wisner is currently the Vice Chairman, external affairs, at American International Group, a think tank. Here is the transcript of the interview as posted on the Council on Foreign Relations' web site: Q: After many failed efforts, India and Pakistan are once again in talks to improve relations. What are the chances for success this time? WISNER: This is the most promising engagement between India and Pakistan in recent memory. While the two sides have been in talks on a variety of occasions in the past, notably after the wars that raged in the subcontinent, never in my judgment have the necessary conditions come together in quite the way that they are coming together now. Q: What are those conditions? WISNER: The first and the most important condition is leadership. You have two strong leaders with good bases in their countries and particularly strong constituencies in favour of taking a peace process as far forward as they can move it. In other words, for the first time, the two political clocks are ticking on approximately the same time. I have never noticed that, never experienced that before, in South Asia. Usually, you have one weak leader and one strong leader. The second point I think is very important is that the two leaders have set about to handle these talks and negotiations in a very sensitive and smart way. They have tried to make certain that not one side or the other appears to be getting an advantage. They've done it very secretly. They've kept the Press out of it so there was no temptation to score points one against the other. And they've made it work as well by building confidence, by engaging in measures that actually demonstrate tangibly to Indians and Pakistanis that they can get things done. Q: Like what, for example? WISNER: They've re-opened air links between the two countries, they've opened air links that they've not opened before that permit India, for example, to over-fly Pakistan directly on its international flights. They've brought about a cease-fire. While there have been other cease-fires, this time the cease-fire also affects the particularly violent Siachen Glacier area [in the Himalayas]. They have opened up land routes and they are talking now for the first time in history of a land route between Srinagar and the Pakistani side in Muzaffarabad. They moved more strongly to open up trade links at the SAARC Summit. The South Asian trade concessions will make much more trade possible between India and Pakistan than has ever been the case. So they've done real things and they have real things in their mind. All of this has come together to create both a way of doing business and some confidence around it that is pretty unique. Q: Is the United States a major player in this effort at rapprochement? WISNER: The United States is a very important player. I have nothing but praise for the way the administration has played its hand, that is, to keep our profile low, not to take credit for progress being made in the course of these talks, not to appear to be a negotiator or a mediator, but really [to act] behind the scenes nudging the two parties forward. And at the same, the United States is working quite consciously to strengthen our relations with both New Delhi and Islamabad, so that both of them find an American offer of understanding acceptable and constructive. Q: Is there a way forward on Kashmir? WISNER: I think there is. I don't think it will come about quickly or easily. I think the Kashmir problem is best dealt with by not trying to resolve the issue of sovereignty, certainly not for some time and until you could build a lot more confidence between the two sides. There are lots of other issues related to Kashmir that can fundamentally change the situation and make it possible for India and Pakistan to look at new ground, new ways of looking at the problem. There is the military confrontation of the high Himalayas in the Siachen Glacier. That could be settled. You can imagine, as well, the Indian and Pakistani armies pulling back from the borders, letting the police patrol the Line of Control that separates the two Kashmirs. You can imagine some agreements on trade that permit the two sides in Kashmir to reunite a bit economically. Movement-of-people issues could be resolved, allowing people on the two sides of the border to travel and visit one another. In other words, to normalise life. In the context of a fundamentally more normalised, quieter, more peaceful situation, there may be some opportunity to find ways of dealing with the sovereignty question, sharing it perhaps. But the outcome will only work if three critical points are kept in mind. The first is: there can be no solution through the use of violence. The second: there could be no solution if one side appears to win and the other side appears to lose. And third: there can be no solution to Kashmir if the Kashmiris themselves are not consulted and made part of the settlement. QUESTION: The US interest in Pakistan has been heavily focused on getting Islamabad's support against terrorists inside the country and along the border with Afghanistan, and in making sure there is no more nuclear proliferation. Are there broader interests as well? WISNER: Yes. Pakistan is one of the largest nations in the Islamic world. It has been a centre for intellectual life and activity. Much of the modern radicalism that Islam knows was intellectually born in Pakistan. Pakistan's reach touches both the Middle East and Central Asia. The stability of that country affects the peace in South Asia, particularly since the nuclear reality appeared on the South Asian horizon. Pakistan's stability, her moderation, her orientation and ties toward the United States and the West are a major question for the United States. It is one of the toughest challenges in American foreign policy because there are a lot of negative things. There is the nuclear proliferation issue, there is the terrorism question, there is the troubled relationship and violence and cross-border terror with India. All these issues have pulled at the stability of US-Pakistani ties. Keeping balance is tough, but it is very important. QUESTION: In the 1960s and 1970s, India was a basket case that got huge amounts of American food aid and other support. Now, of course, India is doing much better economically and, ironically, is being criticised because American white-collar jobs are being outsourced there. Is outsourcing a real impediment to US-Indian relations? WISNER: I think your observation, first of all, about what's happened in India is absolutely true. Since the 1990s, India has performed economically among the top five or six countries in the world on a sustained basis. This year, India will achieve record rates of growth, 8 per cent gross domestic product, and it looks like it will be carried forward a bit, certainly through the next couple of years, as far forward as I'm prepared to look. One of the secrets of the Indian success story has been India's huge intellectual capital and the way that has been deployed, notably in information technology, but [also] moving into biotech and other very modern things, taking advantage of India's higher education institutions, which have sent many people to this country and helped create Silicon Valley. They are very active in our financial services sector. This is evolving, and as you quite rightly point out, India is today not just a manufacturing exporter and producer of steel and chemicals as consumer goods, but it is a huge information technology producer. At the high end, coming up with software solutions, going right down to the low end of call centers taking advantage of India's linguistic skills. But India is also involved in a lot of other back-office work in accountancy, in basic research for stock markets, preparation for corporate documentation, all sorts of outsourcing that gets the cost to American companies down. India has been surging in the back-office businesses of the world. India has about 50 per cent of the business-processing outsourcing accounts that are leaving European and American shores. QUESTION: Is there an upside to this for Americans? WISNER: I think there are many upsides. Of course, one has to be highly sensitive to the job displacement issue in this country. People who lose jobs and don't find themselves recycled are real issue that every American and American business has to be concerned about. That said, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that an American company that outsources to a cheaper market, first of all, gets benefits of quality. You draw on a broader base of intellectual talent that is now available precisely because we have modern telecommunications. The lower prices means the bottom line is a bit thicker. There is more money to invest in new goods and services. There is a cheaper product to offer the American consumer because you have gotten the prices down. And then again, the shareholders benefit from higher profit levels. I believe in the strength of the American economy to develop new jobs with fresh capital that is brought about as a result of cost savings. With fresh capital, we're going to come up with the kinds of jobs that we want Americans to have, that are higher-paying and give Americans the advantages of being integrated into the global economy. QUESTION: With the Soviet Union gone, India no longer has a big power partner, so to speak. Is the United States in a position to do much with India in that respect? WISNER: I start back with a very old-fashioned and basic view of the world, and that is the concept of the balance of power. You'll want the great nations, the emerging powers, to have strong relationships with the United States so if there is ever trouble, you have an ability to contain that trouble. We need a strong relationship with India and India needs one with us. When the Cold War ended, India was without a strong ally in the world and began to reach out to the United States to see if it could repair the relations that had not been tough and strong. We reciprocated through two administrations. Bill Clinton went and really opened the door to India, and George W. Bush has walked though it and developed a strategic dialogue with the Indians, opened up communications with the prime minister and the top ministers in his government, launched military exercises, removed some of the things that blocked our relationships in the past, got the sanctions off the table and constraints on high-tech trade set back, so we could cooperate in a much broader manner in space and even in some weapons systems.

 

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