US Track-2 Hunt For J&K Solution
9 December 2003
The Asian Age
New Delhi: It might be a Track II team from the United States, but it is here with all the authority of Track I to discuss solutions to the Kashmir issue. The ostensible reason for the visit of former ambassadors Frank Wisner and Nicholas Platt, and retired US state department official Dennis Kux is to discuss a report they have recently brought out on 'New priorities in South Asia: US policy towards India, Pakistan and Afghanistan;' but they are also sounding out relevant circles about a possible solution for Jammu and Kashmir. It is apparent that the US has shifted focus from dialogue, which is about to begin between India and Pakistan, to the next stage of the peace process: a solution for Kashmir. In a lengthy meeting with a All Parties Hurriyat Conference delegation here on Tuesday, the US team concentrated on a possible solution for the Valley. They were not particularly interested in the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, asking the Hurriyat leaders for their views on the future of the Valley. The discussions hovered around an autonomous zone including the Valley as well as Pakistan-Occupied- Kashmir, with porous borders to begin with. The US delegation has privately ruled out the possibility of converting the Line of Control into an international border, as this is not going to be acceptable to Pakistan. In fact, sources said, this has not been an option under discussion with different representatives from Jammu and Kashmir as well as experts. The report on South Asia priorities also makes it clear that no settlement can be reached 'that humiliates either India or Pakistan.' It also states rather significantly that 'any lasting settlement is likely to require some change in the way the areas populated by Kashmiris are governed.' Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah, of course, made a dramatic speech at a dinner hosted by the US embassy in honour of the visiting delegation on Monday. He said that Jammu and Kashmir was being converted into a territorial dispute and declared that as long as he was alive he would not allow one inch of the state to be given away. Former ambassador to India Frank Wisner responded by reminding the select audience that Dr Abdullah was battle-scarred, and that his passion was understandable. Mr Saifuddin Soz was the other Kashmiri present at the dinner. Kashmir Committee chairperson Ram Jethmalani was also among those who spoke at the dinner on the situation in the border state. Kashmir did emerge on top of the US delegation's agenda, with Hurriyat sources maintaining that their meeting had been particularly 'good.' The APHC is at present opposed to any disintegration of Jammu and Kashmir, although it is also of the view that the three regions within it could discuss the future together. The US delegation kept away from the issue of a possible trifurcation, concentrating on the Valley instead. It also gave the impression that it was not looking at a solution which would accept the LoC as the international border. Autonomy was reportedly discussed at length. When contacted the Hurriyat leaders, who had been sworn to secrecy, said they did not want to discuss details. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has fallen ill after arriving in Delhi. Prof. Abdul Ghani Butt and Mr Bilal Lone are among those who are here to meet the diplomats and others. APHC chairperson Maulvi Abbas Ansari is still in Srinagar. Mr Wisner, Mr Platt and Mr Kux did make very clear their expectations from India and Pakistan for the present. At an interaction with what the US embassy said was 'select' media, Mr Wisner said: 'Our best advice is to go carefully... get the momentum going.' They advised India and Pakistan to exercise what Mr Platt termed as 'rhetorical restraint' and to create a framework of confidence for an atmosphere in which all issues, including Kashmir, are discussed with great care. Their report maintains that there can be no settlement that humiliates either India or Pakistan, that Pakistan should not use violence across the LoC as a national policy, and that Kashmiris should be consulted in the final resolution of the state's future. For the record, the delegation members insisted that the US would not act as a mediator but only as a facilitator 'to get the issues identified, to introduce ideas, not to prescribe the outcome.' An 'idea' of a ceasefire along the LoC was included in the report sponsored by the US Council on Foreign Relations before it was implemented by India and Pakistan. At the same time, they were of the view that the US should shift from its current 'reactive stance' and become 'actively engaged' on a sustained basis to help India and Pakistan manage their rivalry. In their view there was considerable support for the peace initiative from the Pakistan military. In conversation with a former foreign secretary, the delegation admitted that while headway had been made by Pakistan in tackling the Al Qaeda network, the same could not be said for its offensive against the Taliban.