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August 4, 2000
US slowly becoming part of J&K issue
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
Is the United States slowly but surely becoming part of the Kashmir issue?
Despite India's vehement denials and insistence that only bilateral (read India-Pakistan) talks will be held on the Kashmir issue, foreign affairs analysts and official sources admit that Washington is slowly but surely getting more involved than six months ago.
The good news, however, is that India does not mind the US greater-than-normal interest in Kashmir as New Delhi and Washington now have a far greater congruence of views on the issue.
The convergence of views is the concern over Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism (and its impact on Kashmir and the US), a factor on which India and the US share the same view. It is also on Islamic fundamentalist terrorism that the US and Pakistan are working increasingly at cross purposes.
"Before, India always opposed foreign intervention, especially by the US, as the West tended to side with the Pakistani pro-independence Kashmir view. Now, with concern over Islamic fundamentalism and terrorists such as Osama bin Laden and violence in Kashmir, the US is becoming a supporter of India's position on Kashmir," official sources said.
A former diplomat seconded the view, pointing out that India would now welcome US interest. However, he added that New Delhi would still baulk at any attempt or perceived attempt to play a mediatory role in the dispute between India and Pakistan.
"The US has condemned the massacres in Kashmir and New Delhi will surely welcome any support against terrorist attacks to isolate Pakistan. But India will still not allow direct mediation or any such direct involvement," he said.
External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh refuted suggestions that the US was getting involved in the Kashmir dispute, in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday. He said that US condemnation of the killings was part of India's effort to gain international support on the issue of cross-border terrorism.
What helps India's position is not just support for New Delhi, but condemnation for Pakistan. "No country officially holds Pakistan directly responsible, but the fact that US President Bill Clinton said he would speak to Islamabad only bolsters the view that Pakistan has a hand," he said.
The former diplomat agreed, saying, "Even if this gets the US more involved in the Kashmir issue, it is to our gain, as it holds Pakistan indirectly responsible for the killings in Kashmir," he said.
Thus, violence in Kashmir is helping draw Washington and New Delhi closer.
"Under such circumstances, the US will more than not back India's position on Kashmir, so now it is time for Pakistan to worry about US involvement," said the former diplomat.
However, given India's sensitivity on the issue, it is unlikely that the US will ever be directly involved though it may end up exercising greater influence.
"Let's face some hard facts. The US is a global power. Only the US still has some leverage over Pakistan today and Washington is keen to prevent Pakistan from getting further radicalised. Thus, the US will seek to influence opinion and we should take advantage of it," the ex-diplomat added.
Official sources also point out that given India's growing proximity to the US, New Delhi would now not take it amiss should the US express concern. "We are no longer touchy about US statements on Kashmir," the sources pointed out.
The positive aspect of the recent carnage in Kashmir is that India's position that it will not allow Pakistan into any negotiations stands vindicated.
"These killings are only pushing Pakistan out of the loop in Kashmir. The very call for a truce by the Hizbul Mujahideen shows that Islamabad's influence over the militants is not complete. All this can only be to India's benefit in the long run," the former diplomat said, adding, "In such a situation, who's complaining about US involvement?"
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