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#544, 17 August 2001
 
Kashmir: The US Factor
Chintamani Mahapatra
Jawaharlal Nehru University
 

The Congress Party has pointed out that US pressure induced Prime Minister Vajpayee to invite President Musharraf for the summit in Agra . Earlier there were reports about US pressure on Pakistan to hold a dialogue with India and normalize relations. While it would be wrong to exaggerate Washington ’s role and influence in sub-continental affairs, there is little doubt that it has shown greater interest in South Asian affairs now than before. South Asia suddenly rose in priority for the United States after 1998 following the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests.

 

 

The overt nuclearization of South Asia was a blow to American non-proliferation policies. Washington also began to be concerned with this development because of the unremitting Indo-Pakistan strategic rivalry revolving around Kashmir . Pakistan does not recognize the State’s accession to India ; it has occupied about a third of its territory and has ceded a portion to China . When Pakistani leaders failed to achieve their objective in Kashmir by war, they launched a low intensity armed conflict in the Valley in 1989 by supporting terrorist and militant elements. This Pakistani-backed proxy war has been continuing for over twelve years with no end in sight.

 

 

Washington appears to have a genuine concern with Kashmir becoming a nuclear flashpoint, unless this problem is resolved. Over the years, the US has pursued a policy that is not acceptable simultaneously to India and Pakistan . Hence its motives have been viewed with suspicion in Islamabad and New Delhi . But the US has expressed interest in playing a constructive role if India and Pakistan would agree. Pakistan is not averse to the idea of an American role, because this would vindicate its position that Kashmir is a disputed territory. India is against any third party mediation on an issue that it considers to be its internal matter. This deadlock has not discouraged Washington from seeking a role in the region. There may thus be an element of truth in the perception that, but for the US pressure, the Agra Summit may not have been possible.

 

 

Both the Indian and Pakistani Foreign Ministers visited Washington before the Agra Summit. The Kashmir issue must have figured in their talks with the Bush Administration officials. Following the Agra Summit, Assistant Secretary of State, Christina Rocca, visited India and Pakistan and must have gathered information on the summit. US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, recently offered his good offices to resolve the Kashmir issue. President George Bush reportedly vowed to pursue “freedom and tolerance” from “Kosovo to Kashmir ”. Unlike in the past, these statements did not cause any reactions in the Indian media. 

 

 

The Kashmir issue has become a popular theme for research and discussion in several American think tanks. There is a Kashmir Study Group in Georgetown University 's Centre for International Strategic Studies. The Stimson Centre has encouraged and funded fellowships, studies and research on the Kashmir issue. The Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington has initiated a Kashmir Discussion Series, which holds meetings to debate and discuss issues, including Kashmiri politics, economics and potential solutions to the problem. In addition, Kashmiri Groups and Pakistani Americans in the US ensure that the Kashmir issue is discussed in the US Congress. Kashmiri leaders, including the Hurriyat leaders, visit the US and make speeches in well-known universities. The role of these groups in influencing policy-making circles in the US should not be underestimated.

 

 

It is no coincidence that one year after the Hurriyat leader, Mirwaiz Farooq, suggested the appointment of a special US envoy for Kashmir in his speech at Stanford University in 1998, more than sixty US legislators wrote a letter to President Bill Clinton urging the same. More recently, Yasin Malik, an executive member of the APHC, was a guest speaker at a seminar on Kashmir in Harvard University where he was introduced as a freedom fighter.

 

 

India has to contend with the fact that the Kashmir issue has priority in the US agenda. With the passing days, the US factor in Kashmir affair is becoming increasingly complex. The US Government is no longer the sole actor. It is one thing to claim that Kashmir is an internal affair of India . But, in a globalizing world, solutions to internal problems are no longer internal. Cross-border terrorism is the best example of an internal problem acquiring an external dimension. And the non-state actors across the Indian border are spread across the world, not just Pakistan .

 

 

While India continues its opposition to third party mediation, it is time to push for an Indo-American cooperative role in tackling terrorism.  

 

 

 

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