Clinton's Straight Talk
5 March 2003
Karachi: In a broadcast message to a conference held in New Delhi on Saturday, former US president Bill Clinton had a couple of candid - and timely - things to say to his audience. Referring to last year's communal riots in Gujarat, and in an apparent reference to the ruling party stoking communal passions, he said: 'To identify and categorize people based on faith will keep India from becoming the right kind of giant in the 21st century.' On the Kashmir issue, Mr Clinton did not mince his words either, and called it 'the most dangerous place on earth.' This was exactly the kind of comment which had invited a public rebuke from the Indian leadership during Mr Clinton's state visit to the subcontinent in 2000. This time round, taking advantage of his physical absence from the conference in question, he went on to advocate the need for India to reach a Northern Ireland-like settlement on the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan. Mr Clinton, by his own admission, is a friend of India. His comments on two of India's most pressing problems, namely the on-going freedom struggle in Kashmir and the recurring communal violence in Gujarat and elsewhere, should be food for thought for the Indian leadership. Urging India to start a dialogue with Pakistan, Mr Clinton observed: 'Politicians on both sides of the Line (of Control) have more to gain in the short run by keeping problems festering than making them go away.' This, in all honesty, was a clear reference to Indian obduracy on the subject because Pakistan, for its part, has consistently called for a dialogue on all outstanding issues with India, including, and not restricted to, Kashmir. It is high time New Delhi listened to the sane counsel of its critics as well as well-wishers around the world and agreed to sit across the table with Pakistan to thrash out long-standing issues that have bedevilled the two countries' relations since independence. India's stubborn insistence that Kashmir and communal problems are its internal matters is a meaningless refrain in view of the legal, moral, political and wider human dimensions of these issues.