Ambassador rules out US mediation on Kashmir
9 December 2004
Lahore: The United States can be helpful, from time to time, in advancing the ongoing peace process between Pakistan and India for the settlement of their outstanding issues, including the Kashmir dispute , but will not step in the middle of it to mediate a solution, says American ambassador Ryan C. Crocker. Speaking to reporters here on Thursday, Mr Crocker said he was 'encouraged to see the commencement of composite dialogue between Pakistan and India' in the recent months and the fast progress made on it. Describing the Indo-Pak relationship as an incredibly complex issue, he said it was very encouraging to see the 'fast pace of progress in the peace talks and growing exchange of cricketers, journalists, parliamentarians and others between the two countries'. However, he said 'I don't mean to understate problems between the two countries, especially the issue of Kashmir, which is a very, very complicated issue. President Pervez Musharraf has proposed a solution for the people of the two countries to discuss. Where will it go depends on how it is dealt with.' Answering a question regarding possible solutions to the dispute over Kashmir, Mr Crocker refused to take a position on it. 'This is not for us to take positions on the specifics. It has to be dealt with by Pakistan and India. It is an enormously complicated issue and both India and Pakistan should take aspirations of the people of Kashmir into account (while finding solution to it). It can be resolved only through a dialogue, which has already started. I am hopeful that the peace talks will continue at their present pace.' UNIFORM & DEMOCRACY In reply to a query regarding President Gen Musharraf's intentions not to relinquish the office of the COAS and the US commitment to democracy, Mr Crocker said 'President Bush has made it clear that we see a lot of democratic developments in Pakistan. President Musharraf, who has given his vision of moderate enlightenment, is working to establish stable and sustainable democracy in the country. I'm impressed how much oxygen is in the air in political sense. People and the Press are free to talk and write on anything. If the officials are nervous of the fourth estate, it means you are on the right track.' He said 'Our commitment to democracy is quite firm. But with that comes certain humility. It is not for us to tell other nations what should they do for democracy. It should be left for them to determine the course they want to take to achieve this goal. We should be supporting the ground realities.' He also said the US couldn't take positions on the specifics like 17th amendment to the constitution and the president's uniform. 'It is for the people of Pakistan to discuss and debate these specifics and determine what do they want.' Answering a question, he said President Bush did discuss (the issue of) democracy with President Musharraf in their Saturday meeting in Washington. To yet another query, he said he wasn't going to take position on the return home of former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. US-PAKISTAN RELATIONS Mr Crocker termed the relations between Washington and Islamabad strategic, saying Pakistan had always remained strategically important to the US since the Cold War days through the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the present war on terrorism. 'There have been high points in our bilateral relationship, which have been succeeded by remarkably low points. The last week's Bush-Musharraf meeting visibly demonstrated the high point in our relations. However, the challenge for both the countries is to keep and broaden the relations that they are not subject to low points (in future). For this purpose, we got to move our relationship in different dimensions and cooperation in the war on terrorism should not be the only basis for the US-Pakistan ties. We need to broaden economic and trade relations, allow Pakistan greater access to the US market and increase American investment in this country. Though these things don't happen overnight, we should start moving in this direction,' the ambassador said. In order to create a popular support for the strategic and lasting US-Pakistan relationship, he said, Washington was extending economic assistance and taking steps to boost people-to-people contact. He said the shift in the emphasis (of the US-Pakistan ties) required Washington to help Islamabad improve the economy, governance and transparency so that 'Pakistan becomes what its people want it to be - strong, stable, prosperous and democratic'. He said there was a need to increase mutual understanding about the bilateral relationship between the two countries and to support, strengthen and immunize it from regional shifts. He said that the US would not walk away this time (once the war on terror is over). 'We have walked away in the past just to find ourselves confronted with bigger problems down the line. It is because of this that President Bush has given a five- year economic assistance programme for Pakistan and not a one year facility.' He agreed with a questioner that the number of visitors and students from around the world to the US had decreased after 9-11. However, he said, the number had been growing for the past two years or so. He said the creation of Department of Homeland Security after 9-11 was not easy for the Americans. NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION On a question about reports carried by the US newspapers about Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, the ambassador said different Pakistani and American newspapers were carrying different stories. However, he said, it was important to note that Pakistan had taken steps to ensure that there would be no proliferation in future. He added both the countries were continuing discussions on what had transpired during the investigations of Dr Khan by the Pakistani authorities. FTA In answer to a question, Mr Crocker said Pakistan would have to settle certain critical issues before the US signed the under-discussion Free Trade Agreement (FTA). 'Though we want more US investment to come in Pakistan because the economy is improving and also because it will strengthen bilateral relationship, it does not happen overnight,' he replied when asked what was stopping the US from signing the FTA if Washington was so much interested in expanding economic ties with Islamabad in order to broaden the bilateral relationship. 'Pakistan need to ensure respect for intellectual property rights (IPRs) and rule of law as it applies to commercial transactions for the protection of (foreign) investment. In fact, a couple of outstanding disputes (in which the parties concerned went for arbitration) have sent wrong message to investors,' he said. He said the signing of agreements without taking the ground realities into account did not work. Problems could not be fixed with a stroke of pen. (Investment) climate would have to be made conducive by addressing the issues critical to investors. Besides, he said, there were a few issues 'on our side as well'. 'We (the US) claim to be, and we actually are champions of free market economy, but also have some problems related to our tariff structure on our side. Pakistan and the US are talking to each other to address the issues (blocking the signing of the FTA).'