July 2003 News

India Goes Ballistic Over US-sponsored Kashmir Meet

2 July 2003
The Times of India

Washington DC: The Indian government has gone ballistic over a State Department-sponsored conference on Kashmir, which among other things, ignored the Indian embassy in Washington and did not take into account the views of Kashmiri Pandits. The conference, which took place here on Tuesday, involved experts on the region from US government agencies and experts from various think tanks, including Indian and Pakistani analysts. Hosted by the State Department's Bureau of Research and Intelligence (BINR), it was closed for reporting by the media. The embassy is believed to have protested to the State Department about the conference, which came even as Indian Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal was meeting top US officials. Kashmiri Pandits in the Washington area, who lobby relentless to be heard, were also angered by their sidelining and have written a strong letter to the administration. State Department sources however said the conference was a 'scholarly meeting' and was 'not policy prescriptive.' The BINR hosted a similar conference two years back. Another State Department official acknowledged that the Indian government had gone 'neuralgic' about the conference, believing that the State Department was using the event to start a mediation process. 'That is not at all what we intended to do. It was only a meeting of experts,' the official said. In fact, a flyer that announced the conference said the State Departments Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) 'organizes conferences to solicit the views of non-governmental specialists and to facilitate the exchange of views between these specialists and government officials.' 'The views expressed in the conferences are solely those of the individuals and are not necessarily the views of INR or the Department of State,' the notice said. Still, that did not account for why the Pandits were excluded from the meeting. One State Department official said the place where the conference was held - Washington's Meridian Hall - was very small and could not accommodate more than 40 people. But Indian officials rubbished the explanation and said there appeared to be a deliberate effort to steer the debate in a 'particular direction.' 'If the State Department is giving its blessing to such a conference then the least it can do is to see that all views are presented,' an Indian official, who like his American counterpart wanted to remain unnamed, said. Among those invited for the conference was Usmaan Raheem Ahmad of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Nasim Zehra, Fellow at Harvard University Asia Center (independent journalist), Mohammed Waseem of the Brookings Institute, and Farooq Kathwari of the Kashmir Study Group. Indians in the group included Major General Dipanker Banerjee of the US Institute of Peace and Raju G C Thomas of Marquette University, while western expertise came from Robert Wirsing, who has authored a book on Kashmir. Steven Ghitelman, a familiar South Asia hand at the Bureau of Research and Intelligence moderated the conference and former US Ambassador to India Frank Wisner delivered the closing remarks. At least one participant from India, The Hindu's Strategic Affairs Editor, Dr C Raja Mohan, did not attend the conference. As with the Indian embassy, no representative of the Pakistani mission was invited either.


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