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'Time is ripe for US to help resolve Kashmir dispute'

Last updated on: July 31, 2009 10:40 IST
Former Pakistani Information Minister and noted journalist, commentator and analyst Mushahid Hussain believes that the United States today has more influence on Indian foreign policy than on Pakistan's, and hence, the time is ripe for the Obama administration to use it's influence to help resolve the Kashmir dispute between New Delhi and Islamabad.

Hussain, who was among the speakers on the session on India-Pakistan Relations: Breaking the Deadlock over Kashmir, at the International Conference on Kashmir on Capitol Hill, disagreeing with fellow panelist, Ambassador Howard Schaffer, author of The Limits of Influence: America's Role in Kashmir, declared, "Today, for the first time in 60 years, the United States has an equal clout, equal degree of influence in both Islamabad and New Delhi."

"Of course, to the Indian friends, it's a new romance," he said, adding, "we are used to a romance with America -- it comes in spurts due to the doctrine of necessity and due to the situation and then it goes away. So, we know how to handle our American relationships better than our Indian friends."

But, Hussain, now a Senator and a member of the legislature's Senate Foreign Relations Committee, argued, "We have seen that the American influence today on Indian foreign policy is greater than American influence today on Pakistan's foreign policy."

"Take the example of Iran," he said. "In 2006, the US told India and Pakistan to vote against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Agency. We refused and rejected the American pressure. Our Indian friends fell in line, and changed their vote. On the India/Pakistan/Iran pipeline, Pakistan was asked to back off, we refused, and despite the change in government in Pakistan, we have stuck to the pipeline, but India has backtracked on that under American pressure."

Hussain also asserted that most recently, "One of the reasons for the success of Sharm-el-Sheikh meeting between Prime Minister (Yousaf Raza) Gilani and Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, has been American pressure on India to resume the dialogue with Pakistan."

"So, the US pressure is there, and this pressure is reinforced by a fundamental reality in Pakistan-India relations, and that is that both nuclear neighbours have singularly failed to devise a mechanism for either crisis management or conflict resolution."

Hussain recalled that "In 1999 in Kargil, it was (President Bill) Clinton's intervention. In 2002, when there were one million troops, India and Pakistan facing each other, eyeball to eyeball, it was the intervention of (then US Secretary of State) General (Colin) Powell, (Deputy Secretary of State) Richard Armitage, and recently, after the Mumbai tragedy, again the US came into play and the FBI was talking to both Pakistan and India –the intelligence was talking to both countries."

"So, whenever there is a crisis," he reiterated, "whenever there is a problem, the United States has helped to ensure that it doesn't spin out of control."

Hussain said that the other factor, "Which has ensured a certain peace between Pakistan and India and prevented war, is the nuclear factor. The fact that Pakistan also has a nuclear bomb and India also has a nuclear bomb -- whether we like it or not, this is a factor today for a certain strategic stability because there is a deterrence, a balance of terror. A South Asian version of that works and that ensures that at least the bigger country India, cannot think of doing to Pakistan what it could successfully do and get away with in 1971—at least, that is the perception in Pakistan."

He said 20 years after "the popular, spontaneous, widespread, and indigenous uprising of the Kashmiri people—and let's be very clear, Pakistan didn't start the uprising, so don't expect Pakistan to stop it—to the repression by the Indian occupation army, there has been no change in the perception of the Kashmiri people vis-à-vis the Indian occupation. So, that is the ground reality."

Hussain said, when it comes to certain issues in relations between the two countries, "apart from the mind-set, I always feel that India, should as the bigger country, should develop a bigger vision and a bigger heart, when they talk to smaller countries like Pakistan, like Sri Lanka, like Nepal, like Bangladesh."

He also complained that "we also have this experience with India in that for example, in the recent elections in India, 38 Pakistani journalists applied for visas to cover the Indian election, (but) not one, I repeat, not one, was granted a visa by the world's biggest democracy to one of the world's newest democracies to cover the election."

Hussain claimed, "We have one of the freest, the most vibrant and the most robust media in the third world and the Muslim world. In fact, in my view—and I am quoting Robert Fisk also, the British journalist—on foreign policy, the Pakistani media is freer to report than the American media on foreign policy."

He said that "When I was information minister in 1999, Harinder Baweja (also one of the speakers at the conference, who is now editor, news, Tehelka.com) came, and she was representing India Today, and she said, 'I want to visit Azad Kashmir, I heard so much about Azad Kashmir but nobody gives me a visa.' I said, there's no problem, and there was a conference being held in Muzaffarabad and she came and stayed at Neelam Hotel and she was there for the conference. So this is the difference. (India) Open up. Have a bigger heart."

Hussain also said, "We have another problem with India. Whenever our friends in India negotiate with Pakistan on issues like Kashmir, we are not sure whether the commitment, the pledge, the promise, will be kept."

"The latest example," he said, "is Sharm-el-Sheikh. Manmohan Singh has a joint statement. He signed that statement and the statement says, the issue of terrorism has been de-linked from Mumbai. He goes back to India, he goes to Lok Sabha and he says, no, the issue of Mumbai is paramount and does a U-turn."

Hussain alleged that it had been the same with Prime Ministers Atal Bihari Vajapayee, Inder Kumar Gujral, and Rajiv Gandhi, who had all agreed on a certain commitment on issues regarding Kashmir and the Siachen respectively, but when they returned home backed out of their commitments. "So, there is a track record of India vis-à-vis Pakistan on issues-whether it's the mind-set, whether it's the Indian establishment, whether it is some other hump they have to cross, at the bilateral level, there is an inability to fashion agreements that are durable," he said.

According to Hussain, it was imperative that India take into account it's own interests in terms of breaking the deadlock over Kashmir. "India is talking of a Rising India, Shining India, but the biggest impediment to that rise is the failure to resolve Kashmir and the failure to ease tensions with Pakistan."

"Fours years ago, India tried very hard to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council. It also put up one of its very outstanding diplomats, Shashi Tharoor as a UN Secretary General candidate. It failed on both counts because unless and until the Kashmir issue is resolved, this tangle, this conflict, this dispute, it will pull India down and the issue of terrorism in the region, the issue of peace with Pakistan and also India's own vulnerability, would be exposed."

Hussain declared that "for Pakistan, we have a principled commitment to the Kashmir cause, and this commitment is bigger than any government or any agenda. No (current President Asif Ali) Zardari, no (former President Pervez) Musharraf, no anybody, can take a Kashmir policy. Kashmir policy is a national policy where the 170 million people of Pakistan are totally committed to supporting the genuine and just struggle of the Kashmiri people."

"So, it's above any government, above any individual, and it is now very clearly linked to the peace process in South Asia," he said.

Hussain said, "We salute the Indian civil society, the Indian journalists who have been writing the truth about Kashmir, who have been saying what needs to be said about the occupation army."

"I would like to tell our Indian friends, in Pakistan today, there is no constituency that seeks confrontation with India," he said.

Hussain also added, "We hope that our friends in Washington, realize that unless and until Kashmir is resolved in a just, equitable, and honourable manner, there will be no durable peace for one-fifth of humanity that lives in South Asia."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC