Change Of Tack Or Diplomatic Posturing?21 March 2011
Srinagar: US Ambassador to India Timothy J Roemer’s royal ignore to the separatists has come as a sharp contrast to the once aggressive wooing of the Hurriyat leaders by the visiting US diplomats. And the most prominent of them was former US ambassa¬dor Frank Wisner whose visit in the nineties is also known for being a cause for Shabir Shah’s expulsion from the then undivided Hurriyat. Shah had violated the Hurriyat boycott of Wisner by holding a separate meeting with him in 1996. Wisner had invited Hurriyat ire by advis¬ing the alliance to join political mainstream in Kashmir. Shah also met Hank Brown, Garry Ackerman and of course even George Bush Senior when he visited New Delhi after he was out of office. Similarly, former Ameri¬can envoys Richard Celeste and Robert Blake have also met Hur¬riyat leaders. And, of course, who can forget the advent of Robin Raphael on the scene in 1994. Her pro-active diplo¬macy on the state made New Delhi jittery. Raphael went to the extent of questioning Kash¬mir’s instrument of accession with India. But eventually, New Delhi successfully saw her off and Raphael ended up making some right noises for India. But Roemer’s cold shoulder to the separatists has changed all this. And what is more, US ambassador has rubbed salt into the wound of separatists by not only meeting the chief minister Omar Abdullah but also calling him “an elected representative of the people of Kashmir.” Roemer’s approach has been at variance with the visiting European diplomats who make it a point to meet all shades of separatist leadership in the state and most of the time separatists have been the real priority. Even diplomats from US embassy haven’t been far behind. Last year in October two US diplomats, first secre¬tary Pushpinder Dhillon and political officer Kailash Jha had a meeting with Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and JKLF supremo Yasin Malik days before the visit of president Obama. For Kashmir observers, however, Roemer’s decision to steer clear of separatists has come as expected. ‘’Wash¬ington’s growing reticence on Kashmir became obvious during president Obama’s visit to India last November. The visit made it clear that America’s relationship with New Delhi has taken precedence over many of its tradi¬tional core policy priorities in the region, including Kashmir,’’ says Prof Gul Muhammad Wani. However, Prof Wani says that US restraint on Kashmir is diplomatic and geared not to annoy New Delhi. ‘’The fact remains that US continues to have a great stake in the settlement of Kashmir. It sees in it the remedy to some of its troubles in Afghanistan’’. However, some see the snub to separatists surprising. ‘’Perhaps, more than any other time in the past six decades, US has developed a personal stake in the resolution of Kashmir. The growing thinking in US is that this will substantially aid the country’s efforts to stabilize Afghanistan. And for a US ambas¬sador to steer clear of the separatists at this time appears a bit strange,’’ says Prof Sheikh Showkat. However, Showkat says, that not meeting separatists is not necessarily a measure of any change in US policy. “US sometimes do what it does not say. And it says what it doesn’t want to do”. But for Prof Wani it is for the selfsame reason that Roemer may have avoided separatists. ‘’Roemer’s meeting with separatists could have sent wrong signals to New Delhi already uneasy about US interest in Kashmir,” Prof Wani said. ‘’By meeting only CM Abdullah, Roemer has ensured that the prevailing comfort level with New Delhi on the issue is not upset’’.