August 2001 News

US wants durable Kashmir solution

3 August 2001
The Nation

Washington DC: The US reaffirming its commitment to finding peace in South Asia has cited Kashmir dispute as the core issue of escalating tensions in the region and said that the Bush administration wished for its durable solution. A senior official of the US State Department talking to a US based news agency said that US largely welcomes the dialogue process between India and Pakistan and the recent concluded Agra Summit is a major step towards restoring peace. He said the US believes dialogue process is the only means of resolving this issue, which is impeding economic growth of the region. The official said the US wishes that the pieces of the Agra Summit are picked up in the next proposed meeting between President Gen Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for a durable peace solution to the Kashmir dispute. Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over the Himalayan region of Kashmir. Pakistan holds the stance that the mostly Muslim Kashmiris should be allowed to choose whether they want to be governed by India or become part of Pakistan. However, New Delhi says the region is an integral part of India. Meanwhile, US Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca left Pakistan Friday after a two-week trip to South Asia which will form the basis of a policy review of the troubled region, officials said. Rocca met senior officials in India, Nepal and Pakistan, as well as the Afghan Taliban militia''s ambassador here, in her first visit since becoming the Bush administration''s top policymaker for South Asia. Her first stop was India, whose prominence in US policy has been growing, although Rocca stressed that Washington''s interest in better relations with New Delhi would not come at the expense of Islamabad. The meeting between President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee ended without agreement on a joint declaration, but Rocca was optimistic that at least both sides were willing to talk. Rocca also hinted that US sanctions over India and Pakistan''s nuclear programmes could be eased, but said those slapped against Islamabad after General Musharraf''s 1999 military coup were not open for discussion until democracy was restored. ''Non- proliferation remains an important goal of US policy,'' Rocca said in regard to relations with India. ''But we want to expand and transform our engagement on defence issues, talking more about potential areas of cooperation while continuing to narrow our differences.'' Rocca said Washington wanted to rebuild the Pakistani relationship which has suffered over the 1998 nuclear tests, the coup and Islamabad''s support for the Taliban. ''We would like to see Pakistan resume, as soon as possible, a system of democratic, constitutional government in which civilians elected in free and fair elections are in charge,'' she said Thursday. ''We would also like to see political parties allowed to function freely, including the ability to assemble publicly without fear of arrest.'' Her meeting with the Taliban ambassador, Abdul Salam Zaeef, was the highest-level contact yet between the fundamentalist Islamic regime and the government of President George W. Bush. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Rocca said no significant change in US policy toward the militia would be possible until the ''threat of their support for terrorists is stopped''. But she offered 1.5 million dollars to UN anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan as a reward for the Taliban''s successful ban on poppy cultivation, as well as an additional 6.2 million to help Afghans fleeing drought and civil war. ''Our discussion today focused heavily on the serious humanitarian situation inside Afghanistan which has worsened over the past two years,'' Rocca said, adding that ''repressive Taliban policies'' were part of the problem. In Nepal, Rocca expressed sympathy over the June massacre of the royal family and praised efforts by new Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba to end a Maoist insurgency.


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