Kashmir is the fuse, says Albright
By Sridhar Krishnaswami
WASHINGTON: In variously describing South Asia - dangerous, volatile, ``pool of gas looking for a match'' and so on - influential Senators in the U.S. are reminding the administration that American foreign policy should be broad-based and not confined to any one issue; and in a more immediate context, that the President, Mr. Bill Clinton, should include Pakistan in his South Asia programme starting March 20.
At least three Senators raised the issue of South Asia - India and Pakistan - with the Secretary of State, Ms. Madeleine Albright, as she visited Capitol Hill defending every penny that is being asked for the Fiscal 2001 Foreign Affairs Budget.
``I think the most dangerous part of the world right now - one person's view - is South Asia. I think the one place that has the greatest potential to get out of control the most rapidly is South Asia, India and Pakistan. I don't predict that will happen but I do suggest that if it does, that's the place where things could come a cropper very quickly, and - with no pun intended - a very big bang'', remarked Mr. Jospeh Biden, Democrat from Delaware.
``And the question about whether or not there's a deployment of weapons that have been developed is of significant consequence. There's hair trigger, based on geography and proximity and a pattern of being not at all reluctant to go to war with one another over the past 30 years'', the Senator continued, going on to ask what issues had been currently raised with Gen. Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan by the Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Mr. Karl Inderfurth.
Agreeing that South Asia was indeed a ``very dangerous place'' and that the administration had been ``working very hard'', Ms. Albright responded by saying that the U.S. has had a number of conversations with Gen. Musharraf on several fronts - trying to get Pakistan on board the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and ``to really do everything that they can to limit their desires to pursue proliferation plan''; getting the General to move toward a constitutional civil government; and cooperation in dealing with terrorist problems.
Mr. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut - who was recently in the region - remarked that there were four issues that was of concern to Senators - terrorism, the road to democratisation (of Pakistan), the issue of Kashmir ``which obviously is tremendously troublesome'', and nuclear weapons. He hoped the President would be able to visit Pakistan.
``I don't think there's much likelihood of resolving Kashmir in the next few weeks, nor are we likely to deal with the issue of the nuclear weapons issue overnight but I think there can be some statements and some things done on democratisation and terrorism in the next few weeks which the Pakistani Government could take. And I would hope that we would use whatever efforts and offices we have to try and promote that so that a stop by this President in Pakistan as he visits the sub-continent would be possible'', Senator Dodd observed.
``... we obviously were disturbed by the way that General Musharraf took over,and have been working to try to get him to understand the importance of having a civilian democratic rule and have laid out with him some of the steps that need to be taken'', Ms. Albright responded, going on to make the point that on the terrorism front there had been cooperation at some levels ``but not as much as we would like.''
The Secretary of State then went on to say, ``Kashmir is obviously the fuse that is always there... and ... what makes the situation so dangerous. And it is our hope that they(meaning India and Pakistan)can, in fact, begin to talk about it, with whatever assistance we can give.''Hoping that the administration was engaged in South Asia on a broad set of issues and not holding the region hostage to one issue which would be a ``tragedy for us'', the Republican Senator from Kansas, Mr. Sam Brownback, agreed with Mr. Dodd that the President must go to Pakistan as well.
``Within that region we need to be engaged with Pakistan to be able to deal with it. My fear is that if you don't go to Pakistan... we further move Pakistan away from us, our ability to be able to deal with them, and we actually strengthen the very hand that we seek to weaken, and that of the really militant fundamentalists within Pakistan.''
``I agree with you completely that we need to view the area as one that we have to deal with in a more proactive way. The sanctions were something, as you know, that were automatic on this... I see this(region) as a tinderbox and we are working very hard to defuse a lot of that... India now has a strong government that is dealing with a lot of the issues that have been of concern to us'', Ms. Albright said.