US envoy for Kashmir?

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US Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday with the sole aim of de-escalating tension in Pakistan-India ties, which can occur only if India is willing to withdraw its military forces from LOC and border areas.

One strongly believes that it is about time that the US administration -using its enormous international clout -should be proactive in South Asia, particularly over Kashmir. This is what has also been highlighted by the visiting Congressional delegation in Islamabad on Tuesday.

Kashmir needs immediate intervention on the part of the Americans. It is a nuclear flash-point, a dispute which can cause yet another war between the two countries.

No matter how much the gurus of Pakistani and Indian Governments deny the possibility of a conventional war converting into a nuclear contest, it exists. The reason for that could be accidental as well.

The experience suggests that until and unless New Delhi reshapes its currently intransigent outlook on all of these issues, particularly Kashmir, Pakistan-India relationship will remain conflicting, and, therefore, potentially dangerous.

And the recent past experience, particularly the Agra summit, that even in a dialogue, India wishes the resolution of conflicting matters on its own terms rather than on the basis of internationally accepted norm of an amicable settlement of conflicts whereby each negotiating side is expected to make compromises on its position.

The Musharraf regime wants dialogue with India. The Vajpayee government says no. Islamabad wants de-escalation. New Delhi says no.

Pakistan wanted to settle Kashmir through high-level leadership talks. And India argues Kashmir is a settled matter, and, therefore, is not up for talks.

How can the US help to defuse the current South Asian stand-off, or assist Pakistan and India in ending the conflicts, especially Kashmir? The best way is not through emergency trips such as the present one by Powell.

The US Secretary of State is visiting again, first Islamabad and then Delhi (just as last time). At both places, he may end up making some tactful statements meant to annoy neither of the two nations, and then will go back to Washington to issue the follow-up remarks.

That’s it. Such a makeshift US outlook on South Asia, especially towards its most dangerous conflict of Kashmir, will never succeed.

Washington needs to chalk out a strategy for the purpose, an essential component of which could be the appointment of a US envoy for the Kashmir dispute.

America is not short of people who are well versed with the Kashmir dispute and, in fact, the entire spectrum of Pakistan-India conflict. Stephen Cohen and Robert Wirsing from the American academia, Robert Oakley from the US foreign service, General Zinni (currently mediating in the Palestinian dispute) from the US military-each one of them makes the best American envoy for the region.

If a 54 year old dispute couldn’t be solved by three wars and numerous BI-lateral talks, the only logical choice left is to go for a third party mediation.

India like always will still oppose any mediation fearing its insincerity being exposed, but, it is about time the Americans, and in fact the rest of the world, stopped being blackmailed by the Indians.

The writer is a British based former general secretary of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation.

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