January 2000 News

US think tank for Kashmir envoy

13 January 2000
The Asian Age
Ashish Kumar Sen

SAN FRANCISCO: A leading US think tank has suggested the appointment of a special American coordinator for Kashmir.

In a recent paper on South Asia, Mr. Stephen P. Cohen, a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Washington-based Brookings Institutions, while suggesting the appointment of such a special envoy of Kashmir says the coordinator would not attempt to mediate the dispute, but he or she could harmonise American policies with those of other states, serve as a "clearing house for ideas and policies, and promote Track II diplomacy - unofficial but informed dialogues between Indians and Pakistanis."

"If the American experience in other regions is a guide, this coordinator's role will extend over several administrations; just the appointment would convey the impression that the process leading to the resolution, o at least amelioration, of the Kashmir problem had begun," Mr. Cohen writes.

The author of many books and articles on India and Pakistan, Mr. Cohen says Kashmir is widely regarded by senior US officials and intelligence analysts as the world's most likely flashpoint for a nuclear war."

Mr. Cohen's views have generated some flak within the Indo-American community. "This is a dangerous suggestion. The proposed special envoy will serve not as a mediator but a messenger between two sides," a Washington-based analyst told The Asian Age on condition of anonymity.

"The suggestions do not benefit the US," he said, adding that a similar proposal by a group of Congressmen seeking the appointment of a special envoy in Kashmir was host down a couple of months ago.

There has been no broad US initiative on Kashmir since the early Sixties. For years the situation was seen as both intractable and marginal to American interests. This lack of interest in Kashmir "satisfied" the Indian government, which strongly opposed any outside intervention, but it "disappointed" Pakistan. "However, Pakistanis have proved even more reluctant than Indians discuss solutions other than a plebiscite leading to accession to Pakistan," Mr. Cohen observes.

He adds that America's engagement in the dispute over Kashmir needed to be "raised several notches, while avoiding intruding too far into an issue that can only be settled by the parties involved."

Suggesting that US officials should continue to publicly exhort both countries to resume their dialogue on Kashmir, Mr. Cohen feels Washington should privately but actively work towards resumption of talks, perhaps by serving as an "informal channel" of communication between New Delhi and Islamabad.

"There are aspects of the Kashmir conflict that are more amenable to solution than the core problem, the final status of the Valley and its inhabitants. These include a reduction of incidents across the Line of Control, withdrawal of forces from the frozen wastes of the Siachen Glacier, and improving economic ties between both parts of Kashmir", he writes.

He notes that a heightened engagement with India and Pakistan, dealing with the causes of regional conflict and not only reduce the risk of war but also could "promise important American economic, strategic, and humanitarian interests."

A fresh start in South Asian would accord India a more important place in America's world-view, but wold not ignore Pakistan. It could begin with a high-profile visit by the US President to the region, an intstitutionalisation of the strategic dialogues between Washington and New Delhi, and the strengthening of economic and strategic ties between the two democracies, Mr. Cohen suggests.

The development of Indian and Pakistani nuclear programs raises three immediate and one long-term concern for the United States. First that the two nations not use their nuclear weapons in a crisis; second that their nuclear weapons not add to regional instability on figure in an inadvertent detonation; and third that the technology to produce these weapons not be transferred to any other nations or non-sovereign rogue groups

"Implicit in this enumerations is recognition of the fact that nuclear disarmament is not a realistic option in South Asia," Mr. Cohen observes.

Stabilising the India-Pakistan nuclear relationship is all the more important since in a few years both "may have medium-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching other countries."

There is also an American interest in making sure that these new nuclear systems not interact with those of other West Asian or Asian powers - Israel and Pakistan, for example, or India and China. The United States must also remain concerned about the transfer of nuclear weapons expertise, fissile material, and whole devices from South Asia to other states, legitimate or rouge.

While both India and Pakistan have pledged to enforce legislation prohibiting such transfers, the fact is that four of the world's five declared nuclear weapons states (Britain being the exception) have assisted one or more other countries with their nuclear programmes.


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