US Echoes Pakistan Line On Kashmir, Adds To Worries

11 June 2009
The Times of India


New Delhi: Through a cloud of goodwill and commitment to the US-India 'partnership', the Obama administration signalled it would take a markedly different approach to Kashmir from the previous Bush administration, an approach that will put one more crease on India's forehead. Talking to reporters at the end of talks with the Indian leadership, US undersecretary od state for political affairs William Burns said, 'Any resolution of Kashmir has to take into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people.' This line is a traditional Pakistan favourite, but has not been heard during the past few years of the Bush administration. The Indian government preferred not to comment. Burns carried a personal letter from US President Barack Obama for PM Manmohan Singh, which reaffirmed the partnership with India, and promised a new and improved relationship spanning the entire spectrum of issues. The letter was made public by US special envoy for Af-Pak Richard Holbrooke in Washington. Referring to the missive, Burns said, 'The new US administration is committed to broaden and deepen relationship with India more than we have today and determined to take it to next phase.' US secretary of state Hillary Clinton will be here towards the end of July, Burns said. India and the US will start negotiations on a reprocessing agreement towards the end of July, he added. India had made a formal request for a reprocessing agreement in February, but there had been little forward movement on it. Other than this, there was only a lot of positive sounding words during the first high-level visit of the US administration. While the MEA had lined up a signature of the technology safeguards agreement (TSA) on space launches, the agreement again failed to be inked because the government could not line up the 'requisite approvals'. On a long-pending end-user monitoring agreement, Burns indicated US and India were inching towards a deal. Indian officials said the deal could be done quickly. But then again, it could be delayed. The only deliverable was a working group on education. On Pakistan, Burns kept the US out of the equation, saying, 'The US welcomes dialogue, but the pace, scope and character is for India and Pakistan to decide. And how and when to approach it is also for them to decide.' Officials said there did not seem to be any pressure from the US on talks with Pakistan during the meetings, with Burns reportedly accepting the Indian argument that it took two hands to clap. The reason why India may have been caught off guard on Burns's Kashmir comment is that after Kargil, the US basically pushed the sanctity of the LoC. After 9-11, this line was further finessed to keeping resolution or dialogue at the bilateral level. In 2006, during George Bush's visit, Kashmir did not even figure in the joint statements. On US aid to Pakistan, Burns said the US was monitoring it, not just at the administration level but at the Congressional level too. On Pakistan's action against jihadi groups, Burns said, 'We continue to press Pakistan to act against those groups including Taliban.' Pakistan, he said, 'has special responsibility to bring the perpetrators of the 26-11 attacks to justice'. Although this was a sort of placing-cards-on-the-table kind of visit, it was quite apparent that both sides are groping for something to hang the relationship on. Sources said, off the record, that another visit with nothing to show would signal serious drift in India-US relations.