Pakistan Out, US Veering Around To Indian View On Kashmir
12 September 2000
The Indian Express
Washington DC: Influential sections of the United States administration and policy makers are veering around to the view that the Kashmir dispute can and must be resolved within the framework of the Indian Union and any solution outside this is fraught with even graver dangers than the prevailing situation. Recent interviews and conversation with senior Clinton administration officials suggest that the idea of Indian Kashmir acceding to Pakistan by plebiscite or otherwise or even an independent Kashmir is not seen as a viable proposition. The Indian government too will have to show a lot of courage, foresight and generosity in addressing the genuine concern of Kashmiris, they say. There is a growing feeling here that left to their own devices, New Delhi and the Kashmiri separatists can resolve most of the problems between themselves. Pakistan should show enough foresight to allow this to happen. Most recent evidence of the kind of sentiment emerging between the two sides came in the form of regrets expressed by the Hizbul Mujahideen for the killing of Indian soldiers in Kashmir and a reciprocal expression of repentance by the army authorities for the death of the militants. Senior officials monitoring South Asia say they are encouraged by the contacts between the two sides. They regretted the breakdown of talks on the previous occasion when the ISI is said to have prevailed upon the negotiating Hizbul to put conditions making Islamabad a party to the talks. We don''t have an insight into how things broke down, but it was unfortunate, one official said. The feeling in the administration is that the separatists and the Indian Government should talk now, and Pakistan could be involved at a later stage if necessary. The evolving US views signals a gradual shift in the position of the Clinton administration, which originally opened a can of worms during its first term by publicly airing its doubts about Kashmir''s accession to India. That a statement made by the then controversial Assistant secretary of state Robin Raphael, is seen to have emboldened Islamabad to embark on a more adventurous course to settle the Kashmir dispute in its favour, by force if needed. The changing dynamics of the Kashmir debate follows the decline in Pakistan''s fortune as a nation state and the fears in Washington and other Western capitals of an internal collapse. US thinkers and strategists are now projecting that Pakistan will not exist too far into the 21st century. Robert Kalpan, an influential analyst, suggested in a recent article in the Atlantic Monthly that Pakistan could split into a natural faultline on the Indus river with the areas to the west under Iranian influence and the Punjabi areas to the east reclaiming their Indian heritage. But Kalpan also feels that the country will not go quietly into the night. Other theses about the break up of Pakistan are beginning to make the rounds. Clinton administration described some of these reports as apocalyptic journalism but agreed that Pakistan is facing a grave crisis.. Under the circumstances, the wisdom of Islamabad making Kashmir a central theme of its existence when its survival even without Kashmir is in such grave doubt is questionable, they said. Some analysts have also questioned the viability of Kashmir as an independent country even if one dismisses the prospects of the Indian side of the state merging with Pakistan. The reasonable solution they are bandying around is to settle the dispute along the Line of Control with Indian addressing the Kashmiri demands of autonomy while Pakistan attends to its survival. The changing tone of the debate has not fazed Pakistan''s military dispensation. Despite the country''s parlous state, General Musharraf canvassed for and invested effort heavily on Kashmir at his week long stay in New York. The effort has only served to further disappoint the international diplomatic community, which was hoping for a cooling of temperatures on Kashmir through a Pakistani commitment to the existing peace treaties and abjuring violence - the two Indian conditions for resuming dialogue. At least one former diplomat berated Musharraf in a harsh commentary on the Washington Post editorial page yesterday. ''The economy of Pakistan is sinking, yet the focus of the military remains stronger than ever on Kashmir. Pakistan''s junta continues to concentrate its efforts on funding terrorism in Kashmir on the one hand, while on the other dashing domestic hopes for a return to a democratic and secular society,'' former US Ambassador Robert Davis wrote. Davis said, ''Pakistani military regime is exhibiting a almost pathological determination to keep South Asia in turmoil, doing little to curb Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism breeding within its borders, while scuttling others'' steps towards peace''. He argued that Pakistan intended destruction of the nascent Kashmir peace process requires a firmer response from the US. ''Declaring Pakistan a terrorist state, and thus putting it on par with the terrorist groups it harbours and supports, would encourage its people to remove the military warmongers who have deprived them of sustainable development,'' he said. US officials say privately that declaring Pakistan a terrorist country is simply not on the cards, simply because it would dismay and undermine the more reasonable elements in that society. But indications are that more and more militant organisations such as the Lashker-e-Toiba will be branded if the Musharraf does not act. While there appears to be a subtle change of heart in the Clinton administration on the eve of the Vajpayee visit, whether it will be carried out over to the next administration depends on the spadework the Indians do over the next few weeks. The general feeling is that a Bush administration will be lay store on realpolitiks, going by the strategic weight rather than history or sentiment or UN resolutions. A Gore administration will follow the Clinton line. Gore''s lunch for Vajpayee on September 15th will be at the State Department and Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright will presumably be present.