The US Task Force and Celeste's Kashmir remarks

01 Oct, 1998    ·   147

Sushil J Aaron argues that Indian policy makers should not to dredge up notions about “internationalization of the Kashmir problem” but weigh whether India can bear the political, diplomatic and moral cost of denying democracy and human rights to millions of Kashmiris

The recommendations of the Independent Task Force (ITF) established by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution regarding a course of action for the United States towards a post-nuclear South Asia , especially in relation to Kashmir , are commendable. The Task Force is avowedly independent, but it may be expected to provide an inkling of the future US policy towards India and Pakistan composed as it is of  “former government officials and individuals with expertise in both the region and nuclear matters”.  The Task Force’s findings assume importance in the light of US Ambassador Richard Celeste’s remarks on Kashmir in a speech at Pune on October 6. Celeste said: "I think even the Government of India has indicated it has issues with respect to Kashmir that it must take up with Pakistan, and I don’t believe that one can view this solely as an internal matter. It has ramifications for neighbors, and it has ramifications globally”.  The State Department has stood resolutely by Celeste's remarks in Pune.



The ITF argues that “ Kashmir remains the most dangerous point of contention between India and Pakistan ” and maintains that “it is the issue with the greatest potential to trigger a conventional or even nuclear war.” It has therefore advised India and Pakistan to:



·                     refrain from provocative public rhetoric;


·                     convene bilateral talks (as well as three-way talks involving Delhi, Islamabad, and those representatives of the inhabitants of Kashmir who are willing to eschew violence) to discuss ways of calming the situation in Kashmir.


·                     accept an increase in the number of international observers on both sides of the Line of Control to monitor troop dispositions and to discourage any armed support for militants;


·                     accept a thinning of Indian and Pakistani forces along the Line of Control.


The ITF urges India to:



·                     grant increased political and economic autonomy to the inhabitants of Kashmir ;


·                     reduce the size of its forces stationed in Kashmir that carry out policing functions; and


·                     accept an increase in the number of international observes monitoring human rights conditions within Kashmir .


It exhorts Pakistan to:



·                     eschew any use of military force in or near Kashmir ;


·                     provide no material support to insurgents in Kashmir ; and


·                     deny safe haven to any Kashmiri insurgent group.


Indian policy-makers have little to feel wronged about. They should instead feel fortified that the US can be expected to be stern about Pakistani fuelling insurgency in Kashmir . While no causal relation may be assumed between the ITF report and the specifics of future US policy, it is encouraging to note that the ITF attests to “ Pakistan ’s willingness to forswear any and all of support for armed resistance against India [which] is likely to be a condition for India ’s taking the steps suggested above.”



Interestingly, the pitch of protest emanating from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) over Celeste’s comment was not as deafening as one would have expected, though the BJP spokesperson took exception to the remarks restating that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India . The absence of a vehement official response may be construed to be the response of a Indian diplomatic corps chastened by  the American opposition to the nuclear tests. It may also be a calculated move not to provoke the Clinton administration whilst it pondered the Brownback-Robb amendment to the Agriculture Appropriations Bill that intended to confer waiver authority on President Clinton to lift sanctions against India and Pakistan .



The rhetorical continence of Indian nationalism may not, however, be expected to last very long. One can expect a more brazen attitude regarding American manouering over Kashmir now that sanctions will remain in place due to President Clinton’s veto of the Appropriations Bill. Indeed, if the build-up to the Foreign-Secretary level talks is any indication, India ’s wager to Pakistan to focus on trans-border terrorism in Kashmir may well be a way of communicating its dismay to the Americans.



To be sure, one can expect American pressure on India and Pakistan to reach at least a tenuous equilibrium on Kashmir to be relentless, given the changed security scenario after the nuclear tests. And it is upto India to decide whether it will get bogged down by seeking a solution within the bounds placed by the rhetoric over its territorial integrity or even sanctity of the Constitution of India. Or, will it aim at a resolution package consistent with the existing realities in Kashmir while being reassured by possible American assurances over restraining/ending Pakistan ’s aid to insurgency and firing across the LoC.



As things stand, India is not over-concerned with militancy in the valley. And, even if it claims to be, there is hope that diplomacy will have an impact in this area as the existing militancy is not orchestrated indigenously but is largely the handiwork of Pakistani infiltrators. Indian policy makers should not to dredge up notions about “internationalization of the Kashmir problem” but weigh whether India can bear the political, diplomatic and moral cost of denying democracy and human rights to millions of Kashmiris.