March 2000 News

Wisner: Deal with Kashmir secretly

16 March 2000
Asian Age
Ashish Kumar Sen

San Francisco: Former US ambassador to New Delhi Frank Wisner has said any attempt by the Clinton administration to “take public” the issue of prevailing tensions between India and Pakistan in both countries would “distort and cause great trouble for American diplomacy.” “(The President’s South Asia) visit comes at a time in which there are rising tensions in South Asia, and these tensions have to be addressed. These issues must be addressed — ironically, only quietly and in diplomatic terms. We need to be clear about our principles, but quiet in our pursuit of it,” he said in Washington DC on Tuesday. Mr Wisner was participating in a White House briefing along with Ms Shirin Tahir-Kheli, director of the South Asia Institute at the Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. “India will be the focal point of President Clinton’s South Asia visit,” Mr Wisner said, going on to describe Mr Clinton’s March 19-25 visit as “a terrific opportunity” for the United States “to root itself in the region, to get some traction on the issues.” “We aim... to be able to turn a new page in the relationship with South Asia, and notably with India, the dominant power in the region,” he said. “It will be extraordinarily important to the United States in this century to maintain security in Asia, to see America’s economic prospects advance as that region grows economically. And you really can’t face some of the new challenges of the new century without South Asia — challenges of population, the environment, the new diseases, HIV-AIDS, TB, malaria strains that we’ve not known before,” he added. Mr Wisner, who currently is vice chairman of American International Group Inc. and has just returned from India, said: “I think you will sense a vibrancy and enthusiasm (in India) about a new day with the United States, a new relationship, and it gives me quite a lot of confidence.” Admitting that relations between India and the United States have changed since the end of the Cold War, Mr Wisner said: “Today we have a real chance to see the relationship broadened politically, economically, right across the board.” Mr Wisner said he supports “whole-heartedly” President Clinton’s decision to go to Pakistan, “to engage the chief executive and to engage the leadership of the country.” Ms Tahir-Kheli, who previously spent six years at the National Security Council, endorsed his views. “The presence of the President... is a very strong indication of American continued interest in a stable, secular Pakistan that is at peace with itself,” she said. She stressed the importance of dialogue between India and Pakistan. “The downturn in the relationship between the two countries in the last year has created a situation which is dangerous and where the constructive engagement of the United States at the highest level — and that is from the President of the United States — can make a difference,” she said. “If there’s one thing that I learned in all those years on the NSC, when the engagement with India started to be very active, as was the relationship with Pakistan growing, that presidential attention highlights the need for restraint in the subcontinent. It is something that should be obvious to the leadership there,” she added. Pointing out that India had indicated that it does not want the United States to mediate the Kashmir issue, Ms Tahir-Kheli felt President Clinton “is in a unique position to encourage ... the two countries to engage bilaterally.”


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