March 2000 News

Cautious welcome to U.S. stand on Kashmir

15 March 2000
C. Raja Mohan

New Delhi: India is closely scrutinising the latest American formulations on Kashmir outlined by the U.S. Secretary of State, Ms. Madeleine Albright, and the first reaction is one of cautious welcome. The American opposition to changing the territorial status quo in Kashmir by use of force, the emphasis on respect for the Line of Control and a direct call to Pakistan to stop its campaign of terror against India are being seen here as a movement in the right direction. On the eve of the U.S. President, Mr. Bill Clinton''s visit, there had been some expectation here that Washington would make explicit the subtle shift in its approach towards the Kashmir dispute since the Kargil confrontation. Arguing that ''the conflict over Kashmir has been fundamentally transformed'', Ms. Albright declared that nations must not attempt to change borders or zones of occupation through armed force. ''And now that they have exploded nuclear devices, India and Pakistan have all the more reason to avoid an armed conflict,'' she added. The principle that there should be no forcible change in borders is one that the U.S. strongly supported during the East-West confrontation in Europe during the Cold War. But this is probably the first time the U.S. has applied it to the conflict in Kashmir. The principle was also noted in the Indo-Pak Shimla Agreement of 1972. But the nuclearisation of the sub-continent has made it essential that the status quo is not changed by use of force. Diplomatic observers here say the new American formulation is a clear message to Pakistan that the rules of the game in Kashmir have changed after the advent of nuclear weapons. They suggest that the U.S. is signalling to Pakistan that it is time Islamabad got real on the Kashmir question and ended its risky enterprise of using force to change the status quo. It is also believed here that Mr. Clinton would, in all probability, further expand on this theme during his visit. Referring to another ''practical reality'', Ms. Albright said, ''tangible steps must be taken to respect the Line of Control. For so long as this simple principle is violated, the people of Kashmir have no real hope of peace''. In connecting respect for the LoC with peace in Kashmir, the Clinton Administration is recognising ''the post- Kargil realities in the sub-continent'', sources in the Government say. Mr. Clinton in a joint statement with the then Pakistan Prime Minister, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, declared that the ''sanctity of the Line of Control'' must be respected in accordance with the Shimla Agreement. The Kargil war has turned the thesis of ''a nuclear flashpoint in Kashmir'' on its head. The U.S. is indeed concerned about the danger of a nuclear war in the sub-continent over Kashmir. It is now suggesting that the respect for the LoC could be the basis of avoiding such a confrontation. Ms.Albright is calling on India and Pakistan to ''find some way to move forward'' and resume the peace process. India, of course, says it will not talk until Pakistan stops support for cross- border terrorism. New Delhi also points to the dichotomy in Pakistan''s position of asking for peace talks and promoting a Jihad against India. In demanding that Islamabad must take ''steps to address the effects of terror on Pakistan''s neighbours, notably India'', Ms. Albright has begun to address the central contradiction in Pakistan''s position. If Mr. Clinton could persuade Pakistan to stop its support for terrorism against India, New Delhi should have little difficulty in resuming the peace process with Islamabad.


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