September 1999 News


Kargil II: a letter war in Washington

29 September 1999
The Indian Express
By Chidanand Rajghatta

WASHINGTON: The guns may have fallen silent in Kargil, but verbal artillery over Kashmir has begun to boom in Washington.

In moves that signal a new edge to the Kashmir issue, Indian supporters and Pakistani sympathisers in American legislative and lobbying circles have unleashed a letter war over the appointment of a special US envoy of Kashmir.

Following the belligerent face-off in Kargil and the international opprobrium the misadventure invited, diplomatic and congressional sources say Pakistan decided to retrieve some lost ground by reviving its efforts to seek the appointment of a special envoy on Kashmir through its supporters on the Hill.

So Pakistani lobbyists dusted off a letter containing a dying signature campaign seeking such an envoy and engineered a revival that saw the missive gather the support of some 60 lawmakers.

The letter, addressed to President Clinton, was formally released on the Hill on Tuesday. "The United States should help break the stalemate over Kashmir to reduce the chance of nuclear war in South Asia. Therefore, we urge you to consider the appointment of a Special Envoy who could recommend to you the ways of ascertaining the wishes of the Kashmiri people and reaching a just and lasting settlement on the Kashmir issue," the letter said.

The letter also proposed strengthening the UN Military Observers Group to monitor the situation along the Line of Control.

The demand was immediately rebutted by a separate letter to Clinton by two other lawmakers who appeared to see it from New Delhi's point of view.

The US State Department too has rejected the demand for a special envoy.

"We understand that issue of our colleagues have written to you urging that you consider appointing a `special envoy' for Jammu and Kashmir and proposing that the UN Military Observers Group for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) be strengthened. Taking these steps, as well intentioned as they may appear on the surface, would be a severe setback to the cause of regional security in South Asia," Congressmen Benjamin Gilman and Sam Gedjelsen wrote in a September 22 letter to Clinton that was released today.

Gilman is the chairman of the House International Relations Committee and a powerful lawmaker, while Gedjelsen is a ranking minority member.

The legislators said the best chance for the successful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir issue lies in constructive dialogue between India and Pakistan. To inject a special envoy into this situation, without the willingness of both sides, would fracture and disable the current peace process, they said.

The need to have the two sides resolve their differences bilaterally would also be undercut by augmenting the UN Military Observers Group by introducing additional international forces into the region. Augmenting UNMOGIP at this point would send a signal to India and Pakistan that we expect bilateral discussion to fail, they added.

But more than the letter and its substance, it is the behind-the-scenes lobbying and intrigue that constitutes the story.

While the Indian camp was surprised that the Pakistanis managed to rally as many as 60 lawmakers, what really stunned then was news that the letter was endorsed by heavy weights like Senator Jesse Helms and retiring Senator Daniel P. Moynihan, a former ambassador to India. Moynihan later withdrew his signature and sources attributed it to "some misunderstanding" among his staff.

Indian diplomats also called on Congressman David Bonior, who has led the signature campaign. The Democratic congressman from Detroit explained that he was not "anti-India" but was interested in a resolution to the Kashmir conflict.

With the India Caucus itself having more that 100 lawmakers, Indian lobbyists are confident of getting more than 100 legislators to oppopse the move for special envoy. But they appear to be keeping the power dry, especially since the state department itself has rejected the move.

Indian diplomats said the Pakistanis had expended an enormous amount of time and resources on this effort of following the diplomatic setback arising from Kargil. They expect more such Pakistani moves in the coming weeks to keep the pressure on India.

The Kashmir special envoy demand is signed by many of the usual Cold warriors, including Congressmen Dan Burton and Dana Rohrabacher, who are incurable India-bashers. Not surprisingly, the lawmakers have invoked the late Richard Nixon to make their case on Kashmir.

Nuclear powers have never fought each other, but the clash between Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India over disputed Kashmir territory could erupt into the worlds first war between nuclear powers, the Congressmen quoted the late president as saying.

They maintained that to avert this possibility, the dispute over Kashmir's unresolved status must be settled promptly and peacefully.

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