March 2004 News

Kashmiris facing leadership crisis: former US envoy

12 March 2004
The Daily Times
Mohammad Shehzad

ISLAMABAD: There is no single leadership behind which the people of Indian- administered Kashmir can unite. The crisis of leadership is the conundrum of the Kashmiris, said former US Ambassador Howard Schaffer. Mr Schaffer and his wife, Ambassador Teresita Schaffer, were sharing their latest experiences on South Asia with a select gathering at the residence of US Ambassador Nancy Powell. 'Kashmiris have a strong feeling of alienation from India. They are not sure what exactly they want. Some want accession with Pakistan. Some want autonomy. A section of them has proposed a condominium,' said Mr Schaffer. The couple had recently visited Jammu and Kashmir (JK) and met with several leaders and common people. They were impressed with the people's optimism about the improving relations between India and Pakistan. 'I did not feel any cynicism and found them optimistic about a lengthy peace process including other aspects like trade and the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service. Kashmiris are positive about the future. They are undecided about the boycott of the coming elections,' said Mr Schaffer. He was supportive of the visit by the Ansari-led All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) to Pakistan for holding talks with 'the boys with the gun' to engage them in the peace process. In Mr Schaffer's 'personal' view, Mufti Saeed's government had performed better than that of his predecessor Abdullah's, although Kashmiris had seriously criticised his 'healing- touch' policy. Ms Schaffer focussed on the Indian economy during her talk. 'From a militaristic viewpoint, China is India's enemy. But from economic aspects, India-China trade has boosted to $7b. This is far greater than India-US trade. Trade between China and India is a great success story,' she said. Ms Schaffer noted that the ability of both Indian and Pakistani governments to avoid a media war against each other was a laudable achievement. Responding to a question on the issue of travel documents for the proposed Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, Mr Schaffer said that it was negotiable and it would be settled in a manner that would not prejudice the position of either party. A reliable source has however told this scribe about Pakistan's concurrence with the Indian government's argument on this issue i.e. if Kashmiris could come to Pakistan on Indian passports through the Delhi-Lahore bus service, why can't they use the same passport for the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service?Responding to Dr Tariq Rehman's question about the possibility of Jammu going to India, the valley to Pakistan and Ladhakh to either party as a solution to the issue, Mr Schaffer opined that no Indian leadership would surrender territory to Pakistan. The Indians were unanimous on this issue, he added.Some Pakistani hawks were obviously very disappointed to hear that. 'If the Indians are not ready to give us Kashmir, then why are we talking,' said one guest to another.Mr Schaffer said that Mir Waiz Umar Farooq was the most influential leader in Kashmir and had a large following, but that was not enough to impose a solution on the Indian government. He lamented the rigidity in Syed Ali Shah Geelani's thinking that had not experienced a slightest change since day one. He thought militancy or hawks alone were not in a position to mastermind a complete boycott of the elections.


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