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Former Pak envoy to US begins India-bashing

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
July 31, 2009 09:06 IST
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She's highly articulate, extremely charming, yet unabashedly hawkish when it comes to defending Pakistan, warts and all on the Kashmir issue, and this is sure to be a thorn in India's side in the think-tank circuit in Washington in the months to come and during Congressional hearings on South Asia, to which she's certain to be invited to testify.

The lady in question is former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States, Dr Maleeha Lodhi, who will join the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars next month as a visiting fellow for a year, and since arriving in DC last week, has been on the warpath against India and Washington's extended romance with New Delhi, starting with a speech and interaction at the US-Institute for Peace, and then again during her remarks at the International Conference on Kashmir on Capitol Hill.

At the USIP, which is partially funded by the US Congress, the diminutive Lodhi faulted President Barack Obama and US lawmakers for continuing to hold that Pakistan should change its security threat perception paradigm from India to the internal terrorism that plagues her country.

She argued that the Pakistani military has to go by the massive number of Indian troops arrayed on the eastern border and thus Islamabad cannot simply deploy its troops to the western border to take on the Taliban and the Al Qaeda as Washington has been insisting.

At the Kashmir conference, she was in her element once again, this time arguing that the unresolved Kashmir dispute "poses a threat to regional stability and has international implications."

"First, the obvious one," she said, "it remains the principal source of Pakistan-India discord and presents the most proximate nuclear flashpoint. All four Indo-Pakistan crises in the past two decades were linked directly or indirectly to Kashmir."

Lodhi said, "The latest confrontation, which followed the terrorist attack in Mumbai last November was only a reminder that unless long-festering disputes are addressed, violence will continue to stalk the subcontinent."

She said that the "lessons of the current period of tensions, which have only partially allayed by the meeting in Sharm-el-Sheikh, is that periodic confrontations will continue to erupt and pre-erupt and the turmoil in the Valley will continue and find different expressions, which will be triggered by different kinds of developments."

"But it will continue to wreak and inflame tensions between the two nuclear neighbours," Lodhi predicted, and added, "We should also remember that the effort to try to mischaracterise the issue of Kashmir by tarring it with the brush of terrorism will not succeed, because history is testimony to the fact that violence did not cause the Kashmir dispute, it was a consequence of the Kashmir dispute."

She said that "what the recent protests, triggered by the rape of two Kashmiri women, which followed much bigger ones last year, show is the continued turmoil and sustained resistance of the Kashmiri people to Indian rule."

Lodhi argued that "if violence has to be ended, it must be ended by all sides. One side cannot be expected to take unilateral commitments on ending violence."

She said, "The Kashmir dispute continues to loom large in Pakistan's security calculations as well as its security priority and thus has obvious implications for Pakistan's ability to confront the threat of militancy within and on its western border with Afghanistan. And, this clearly has implications for the international campaign against terrorism and the effort led by the United States to stabilise Afghanistan."

"Pakistan's ability to take decisive action against militancy and focus fully on its western border requires at the very least, calm and normal relations between Pakistan and India. And, the ability to effectively contain the forces of militancy need a context of progress and tangible progress of resolving the substance of the Kashmir dispute."

Lodhi, laying it on thick, obviously cognizant of the presence of some US lawmakers and Congressional aides at the conference, added, "An unresolved dispute jeopardizes prospects for regional stability because the longer the issue continues and festers, it heightens the danger of a strengthening of the forces of radicalism and militancy in our region."

The erstwhile envoy, who was also Pakistan's High Commission in Britain after her stint in Washington, recalled that "the British Foreign Secretary had recently acknowledged this when he said -- which created a bit of a storm in India—that the resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main call to arms."

"So, if we are to be smart about addressing the root causes of terrorism, we have to ensure that the oxygen is taken away from the terrorists. And, by that I mean, we must address the legitimate grievances that the men of violence usually exploit for leverage."

Lodhi asserted that "this is not of course to condone those acts of violence, but simply to understand why it happens and why it's so crucial to address the underlying factor."

She also argued that the "prolongation of the dispute obviously offers opportunity to extremists in both countries to try to sabotage talks between Pakistan and India and hold these hostage, as indeed they have tried to do recently in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attacks."

While welcoming "the renewal of the diplomatic re-engagement between India and Pakistan in Sharm-el-Sheikh," Lodhi predicted that "the success of failure of this tentative opening act as it were, will continue to rest on the ability of the dialogue process to address the substance of the Kashmir dispute."

In this regard, she said, "Unless the Kashmiris through their representatives are also associated with the dialogue process, this dialogue process will not have legitimacy and will not have the support of the Kashmiri people."

Lodhi warned that "this is not a dialogue that India and Pakistan can have over the heads of the Kashmiri people," and reiterated, "This must involve the Kashmiri people, through their legitimate representatives."

She asserted that "the success of President Obama's strategy in the region will be contingent, will depend, will rely on calm and normal relations between Pakistan and India, and those in turn depend on addressing the Kashmir issue."

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC