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Speculation over Mulford's remark
Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | July 20, 2006 20:39 IST
Diplomatic circles here are buzzing with the question: Was it just a faux pas, or was US Ambassador to India David Mulford in sync with Pakistan's contention that the Mumbai bomb blasts of July 11, and indeed all incidents of terrorism in the country, were linked to the non-resolution of the Kashmir dispute?
Mulford's comments, however interpreted, have heaped fuel on a fire that has been raging ever since Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri linked the terrorist incident in Mumbai to the Kashmir dispute.
Addressing the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace July 11, Kasuri, who was visiting Washington, said 'I started my speech by referring to this ghastly Bombay tragedy -- this terrorist incident. You see, we need to take steps in which extremism is discouraged. Hindu and Muslim extremism is reinforcing. Extremism in one leads to extremism in the other, and it's a spiraling effect and no purpose will be served if we do not really try to understand why did we fight so many wars? It's Jammu and Kashmir, there is no other reason.'
The remark, which seemed on the surface to rationalize a terrorist strike, roused India's Ministry of External Affairs to open fury. MEA spokesperson Navtej Sarna said 'We find it appalling that Foreign Minister Kasuri should seek to link this blatant and inhuman act of terror against men, women, and children to the so-called lack of resolution of disputes between India and Pakistan. His remarks appear to suggest that Pakistan will cooperate with India against the scourge of cross-border terrorism and terrorist violence only if such so-called disputes are resolved.'
Sarna called on Pakistan 'to take urgent steps to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism in the territory under its control, and act resolutely against individuals and groups who are responsible for terrorists' violence.'
Mulford, who too was visiting Washington last week, was in an interaction with journalists asked to react to Kasuri's rationalization of the Mumbai blasts. 'Obviously there are linkages there. We all know that,' the envoy said. 'At this point, I think it's a little early to be precise as to who did what in these attacks, and I think that's also an issue for the Indian government to explore and come to its own determination on.
'But I think in principle, we all understand that Kashmir is a key issue.'
The problem with the remarks of the Pakistan foreign minister and its seeming endorsement by the US envoy to India, analysts pointed out, is that it flies in the face of basic US policy: That there can be no excuse, no justification, for a terrorist attack.
To therefore suggest that such attacks were because the pending dispute had not been resolved � the logical corollary being that the attacks would stop once the disputes were resolved � was to indulge in precisely the sort of blackmail the world has collectively set its face against, they pointed out.
Mulford meanwhile was asked what the US action would be, if the Pakistan-based Lakshar-e-Taiba were to be deemed complicit in the attack. 'The US has been willing to exert pressure all along and this is a group that's already on our anti-terrorist list,' Mulford said. 'So yes, I mean, that's a foregone conclusion.'
Mulford later expressed his 'personal sympathy to the people of India, especially the people of Mumbai and to those who had family, or relatives or friends who were caught up in this disaster'.
The US envoy told journalists of his 'admiration for the big heart of Mumbai, their resilience, their willingness to get back right away to business as usual and to sort of just turn their nose up at these terrorists and keep their city's forward momentum going.'
He said the US stands ready to immediately offer any assistance to India, but added that to his knowledge, New Delhi had not made any request thus far. 'We've had cooperation all the time, we've been improving that cooperation and we always would have on offer in a situation like this any assistance that would be asked for.
'We would not impose that, but we have a long experience with other events like this and we think that we could bring something important to the process.
'But obviously,' Mulford said, 'it is only if we are asked and required to, because let's face it, India is a very competent in these fields themselves and they may well feel that they have entirely what they need to conduct whatever the investigations are that they need. So that will be their decision.'
Meanwhile, Kasuri in his address harped repeatedly on the Kashmir theme. 'We welcome President Bush's commitment of US support for a Kashmir solution acceptable to all sides,' he said, while calling on Washington to 'use its considerable influence in the area in encouraging the peace process and facilitating a solution acceptable to Pakistan and India, and, of course, to the people of Kashmir above all.
'This would serve the strategic interests of all of us and help transform the political and economic landscape of South Asia,' he said.
When asked for comment on the composite dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad, Kasuri said 'we have not made much progress' on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.
It was this core issue 'that has caused so many wars and perpetual tension' between the two South Asian neighbors, Kasuri said. Acknowledging that there have been some confidence-building-measures, he however complained that 'even those are half-hearted.
'We can go on and on, incremental approach is good, but now we must tackle real issues and this is the best way of tackling extremism in South Asia,' he argued.