US may play active role in Kashmir
By Seema Mustafa
New Delhi: Kashmir will be on top of US President Bill Clinton’s agenda when he visits India and, possibly Pakistan, next month. The complete breakdown of relations between the two countries on the eve of the presidential visit has ensured a window for US intervention on an issue which has been described as "most dangerous" by President Clinton on more than one occasion in the recent past. India will focus on cross-border terrorism during President Clinton’s visit but officials admit that there will be "pressure" on what the US describes as a resolution of the Kashmir issue. US secretary of state Madeleine Albright has identified Kashmir and non-proliferation as the main issues of concern for the US administration. She has said that progress on these issues has not been exactly according to US expectations.
India and Pakistan have both effectively closed all doors for a dialogue. Pakistan’s Chief Executive, General Pervez Musharraf, has put the focus entirely on Kashmir in recent weeks, prefacing every offer of a dialogue with this precondition. As former foreign secretary S.K. Singh said, "He is only interested in Kashmir, not in a dialogue." Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has also closed all options for the moment by maintaining that there can be no progress on Kashmir without the withdrawal of Pakistan troops from Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. The nuclear rhetoric has also intensified with Gen. Musharraf asserting that he will "never" use the option unless Pakistan is attacked first. This is India’s position as well with Mr Vajpayee asserting, "They think that they will drop one bomb and they’ll win and we will lose. This won’t happen. We have said we won’t be the first to use nuclear weapons, but if anyone uses them against us, we will not wait for our annihilation."
The US administration has been expressing worry about the heightened tensions in the region between two nuclear armed states. Both India and Pakistan are in no mood to back off, with sources pointing out that this steady deterioration in bilateral relations "can be expected to continue till President Clinton’s visit here."
Sources make it clear that India is no mood to break the ice. "Relations have touched rock bottom and obviously we have no intention of participating in a dialogue that is Kashmir-centric," the sources said. The government is clear about not having any dealing with Gen. Musharraf, who is viewed by New Delhi as an anti-India and even "dangerous" entity. There is little to no contact between the two countries at the political level with Track II diplomacy having been totally discarded after the military takeover. The Indian foreign office has been consistent in its opposition to General Musharraf with talks being openly ruled out in the corridors of power. Analysts here point out that "the agenda will unfold" during the presidential visit with Kashmir being a crucial part of his itinerary. Gen. Musharraf is also expected to sharpen the rhetoric to ensure the necessary focus on the Valley, regardless of the fact whether President Clinton visits or does not visit Islamabad.