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Kashmir needs an agreement on water: US lawmaker

July 28, 2009 14:18 IST

United States Congressman James Moran, a Democrat from Virginia, who hosted the 10th International Kashmir Peace Conference on Capitol Hill, believes the Kashmir problem between India and Pakistan also involves the issue of water.

In his opening remarks, Moran lamented, "While the United States has been fighting a war in Afghanistan that we read about everyday, there has been another conflict -- one that is older and arguably more complex that has been taking place not too far away."

"That conflict has been going on for more than 60 years -- in the region of Kashmir," he told 350-odd participants from the US, Canada, Britain, Pakistan, India, and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Moran pointed out, "While it's a conflict between India and Pakistan, a number of other players are involved, and like most conflicts, Kashmir is fought over land, religion and identity."

It's also a fight, he added, "partly over water," and said, "It's a commodity that is often taken for granted in this country, but water for Indians, Kashmiris, Pakistanis, Chinese, that's what is more valuable than the gas that we pump into our automobiles."

"And, without an agreement on water issues, the Kashmir region will never be at peace," Moran predicted.

The lawmaker said, "Like many other areas of conflict, we here in the United States normally only hear about the conflict when blood is shed or lives are lost and hopes are shattered. But Kashmir is much more than a place of violence, pain and anguish."

Moran told the participants, "We are here because we know how much it should be a place where solutions are found and lives are rebuilt and a positive future is constructed. That's the purpose of this conference."

"And, I hope that by focusing attention on this issue, we can look beyond the parochial issues that the United States has with regard to the Taliban and al Qaeda and Afghanistan-Pakistan and so on, and look at how we could be a constructive, informed positive player on this issue," he said.

Moran said it is the hope of the US Congress that "we will all learn more about this conflict, particularly by engaging with each other, building bridges, where to some extent, none have existed before. This is what needs to happen and I hope it can happen in Kashmir itself and in India and in Pakistan."

Congresswoman Yvette D Clarke, the New York Democrat representing Brooklyn who was re-elected with more than 90 per cent of the vote, spoke at the session titled, 'Kashmir Issue: Regional and International Dimension'. "I represent a very diverse district with a vocal Muslim community, and through the steadfast advocacy of my constituency, like that of the Muslim Community Center and my policy work in DC, I have been well versed on the disputed region of Kashmir," she said.

Clarke said, "We know that the US interest in South Asia focuses on ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan rooted largely in competing claims to the Kashmir region and in cross-border-terrorism in both Kashmir and major Indian cities."

She explained, "In the interests of regional stability, the United States has strongly endorsed an existing, but currently moribund India-Pakistan peace initiative, and remains concerned about the potential for conflict over Kashmiri sovereignty to cause open hostilities between these two nuclear-armed countries."

In this regard, she pointed out that "Although the United States seeks to curtail the proliferation of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in South Asia, both India and Pakistan resist external pressure to sign the major nonproliferation treaties."

Clarke said, "Therefore, I believe the time for genuine negotiation and compromise for a lasting peaceful solution is now," and exhorted that "it is integral that this dispute be recognised by the international community and settled through diplomatic means, so that peace can truly reign over the region."

She lauded the participants at the conference for their efforts "aimed at finding a viable solution that will one day bring peace and recognition of the self-determination of the people of Kashmir and their sovereignty."

Clarke encouraged those present to continue to work "with members of Congress like myself, to amplify the voice of those who want freedom."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC