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Growing concerns

Published : Oct 25, 2002 00:00 IST

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Although Washington and Berlin might differ on Iraq and issues relating to terrorism, their views on South Asia are not too dissimilar. In fact, like the rest of Europe, Germany seems to have let the United States take the diplomatic initiative in South Asia as it did in the case of the Arab-Israeli conflict. However, Kashmir has been figuring quite prominently in the foreign policy speeches of Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. He mentions Kashmir in the same breath as the other troublesome areas in the world, such as West Asia. He says that these issues have to be first solved before a regime change is effected in countries such as Iraq.

German Foreign Ministry officials say that their focus on Kashmir is a reflection of international concern. They point out that in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan mentioned India, Pakistan and Kashmir along with Iraq and West Asia. The German view is that South Asia is at present "unstable" and that there is no regional cooperation, with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) remaining "dormant". The German perception is that "peace and stability" is essential for the region to prosper. It is no surprise, therefore, that German investors prefer to invest in East Asia. China is the preferred destination of German capital and technology.

At the same time, German officials say that they are "confident about India, despite Gujarat". The news about the atrocities committed in Gujarat earlier in the year was mostly confined to the inside pages of German newspapers, overshadowed as it was by the bigger tragedy in the West Bank, where Israeli troops conducted a massacre in Jenin. "India should keep its demons in check. Democratic thinking and secular tolerance are needed," said a senior German official. India, from the German viewpoint, remains "a strong democracy and a centre of political stability in the region, despite some problems in the northeast and the northwest". However, Berlin is not too happy with the pace of economic reforms in India.

Germany does not wish to take sides on Kashmir. "We have no solution for it," said an official. At the same time he said that violence would not provide an answer. In this context, the official criticised Pakistan for launching the Kargil adventure. Germany, like most countries in the world, is in favour of a resumption of the dialogue process between New Delhi and Islamabad. Converting the Line of Control (LoC) into a permanent border is an option that they want both India and Pakistan to consider.

The Germans, like the Americans, are not too critical of Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf. His help in the so-called War against Terrorism is sufficient reason for Western capitals to overlook his glaring shortcomings. The official said that "realpolitik'' necessitated a soft stand on Musharraf at this juncture. Germany wants Pakistan to continue with its present policy on terrorism and Afghanistan. Germany is not "too happy with the prevailing situation in Afghanistan". It is trying to establish a political blueprint for Afghanistan by talking to some of the major political actors such as Ishmail Khan, the Governor of Herat.

German officials are more keen on talking about the elections in Kashmir than the forthcoming general elections in Pakistan. They expressed "mixed reactions'' after the first round of polling in Jammu and Kashmir. According to them, the elections were "not inclusive'' as far as the representative nature of the candidates was concerned a reference to the absence of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference and other parties in the fray. The participation of the electorate was also uneven, as it varied from place to place, an official said. "The security people were a little too eager to make people vote in some places," he said.

Germany would have preferred the presence of international observers in the Valley during the elections. It had sent its diplomats as election observers. German officials felt that it would be "politically prudent'' for New Delhi to keep all sections of Kashmiri opinion "on board". In this context, they found it strange that Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani did not meet Kashmiri leader Shabir Shah when the latter visited Delhi before the elections. Eventually, Shah did not participate in the elections.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Oct 25, 2002.)

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