U.S. role in evidence

Print edition : December 09, 2000

IT is impossible to miss the many kites flying above the terrain of Jammu and Kashmir politics, competing for attention. What has not become clear is just who is holding the strings. There is disturbing evidence that the United States is increasingly sha ping the contours of India-Pakistan engagement on Jammu and Kashmir.

Earlier this year, Frontline broke news of U.S. businessman Mansoor Ijaz's presence in Srinagar, and his negotiations with top officials and politicians in both Jammu and Kashmir and New Delhi (June 9, 2000). Ijaz, a nuclear physicist and investme nt banker whose father played a key role in assembling the intellectual infrastructure of Pakistan's nuclear programme, had arrived in Srinagar escorted by Research and Analysis Wing minders. Just weeks later, the Hizbul Mujahideen had announced a unilat eral ceasefire. Six months on, Ijaz has at last come out with an account of his role in events in the State.

In a November 22 editorial article in the International Herald Tribune, Mansoor Ijaz says he had during his visit to the sub-continent "proposed a framework for dialogue to General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's military leader, and Prime Minister A tal Behari Vajpayee, India's Prime Minister, that envisioned empowering ordinary Kashmiris, 'civilian and militant alike', as the central partners for peace". "The initiative," Ijaz wrote, "had backing from President Bill Clinton as an effective means fo r preventing the internal implosion of Pakistan at the hands of its Islamic zealots."

After his meetings in New Delhi, Ijaz met Musharraf and "counselled him that Pakistan was in danger of losing the moral authority it once held in Kashmir by allowing, indeed encouraging, increasingly indiscriminate violent behaviour by Islamic radicals f ighting there". "During our almost three hours of meetings, I told him that every civilian I met in Kashmir earlier that month had tired as much of the incessant violence imparted by Pakistan's militia forces as they had from that of India's security for ces over the past decade." Ijaz claims to have implored Musharraf to "persuade the Mujahideen under his control to opt for non-violent means".

But, Ijaz records, the July ceasefire fell apart after "Pakistan's Islamic fundamentalists got wind of the proposal". "The mere thought of slowing down or stopping their well-financed jehad was heresy". Musharraf, for his part, "got cold feet when the July ceasefire he initiated with (Hizb chief) Mr. Salahuddin was portrayed in fundamentalist circles as a 'sell out'." Indeed, "after learning that I had delivered a letter from Mr. Salahuddin to Mr. Clinton in which he sought verification of the Pr esident's direct backing of our peace initiative, religious extremists threatened to replace the Hizbul leader and issued fatwas, death warrants, against me".

Then, in August, Ijaz and the U.S. diplomatic establishment renewed their efforts. This time, they proposed a formula in which "Pakistan would be brought to the negotiating table at the outset of political discussions after the ceasefire had taken hold, first bilaterally and then, at the Kashmiris' request, trilaterally. India's adamancy not talk to Pakistan unless cross border 'terrorism' stopped, would disappear in the valley- wide ceasefire call from Salahuddin. He would receive critical support from General Musharraf to bring unruly Islamists on board, and General Musharraf in turn would get a nod from Washington along with some much-needed International Monetary Fund aid".

As the dialogue process proceeded, Ijaz notes, "India would agree to a significant, verifiable and permanent reduction of its forces in the valley in exchange for a verifiable withdrawal of Pakistani militants. In the process, the Mujahideen voice would be strengthened and unified and Pakistan could take credit for having tangibly supported peace through its military advocacy of the Kashmiri cause". This framework, the businessman wrote, "was agreed to by the Indians and, conditioned on Pakistan intelli gence accepting it, by Mr. Salahuddin in late August. With virtually all of Islamabad's demands met, and a historic opportunity to find a permanent solution, why has Pakistan not yet embraced it?"

Musharraf alone can answer that question, but New Delhi has some issues that need to be publicly addressed as well. For one, if Ijaz' claims are correct, it is clear that the National Democratic Alliance has repeatedly lied in claiming that there has bee n no U.S. mediation on Jammu and Kashmir. Successive Indian governments have resisted U.S. interference in its management of conflict in the State, for a variety of good reasons. Ever since the Pokhran-II nuclear tests, it has been clear that India has b een increasingly vulnerable to U.S. diplomatic pressure, and its Jammu and Kashmir policy has been a central casualty of these circumstances.

Nor is it clear, as officials have repeatedly claimed, that the U.S. is in fact aiding India's interests in Jammu and Kashmir. Ijaz himself makes clear that the U.S. government's central objective is containing the Islamic Right in Pakistan. That, the bu sinessman's references to strengthening "the Mujahideen voice" seem to suggest, would involve India making significant concessions to attain that objective. In the past, there have been several indications that the U.S. would like to see the Muslim-major ity areas of Jammu and Kashmir granted some form of quasi-independence. In this context, Ijaz' repeated use of the term 'Kashmiris', who are just one of the State's many ethnic communities, is also instructive.

While it can be nobody's case that a cessation of violence in Jammu and Kashmir is a bad thing, the real question is what the Vajpayee government's larger political vision on the conflict might be. If Ijaz' article is any indication, the answer lies in W ashington, not New Delhi.

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