US prepares roadmap for Kashmir

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The United States after military success in Iraq has initiated new plans in its foreign policy doctrine that will have check and counter what it call global “security threats” and help its national interest in long term.

High on its priority list is long pending dispute of Kashmir between nuclear neighbors India and Pakistan and to this effect, the American policy makers at the state department are engaged in preparing a roadmap for Kashmir.

The broad outline of this plan will carve a middle path, which both the parties to the dispute would have to consider.

Already indications to this effect are coming from different quarters. The main argument behind concrete US diplomatic moves in South Asia is to solve Kashmir problem and get rid of weapons of mass destruction, which both the nations possess.

A Pakistan’s daily The News reported that US has set a roadmap for the permanent solution of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan at December 2004. Even a top leader in Pakistan Administered Kashmir Sardar Sikandar Hayat acknowledged in his interview to BBC that solution to the core issue of Kashmir is soon to be realized.

According to analysts in India, it was at the behest of US that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee initiated the offer of talks to Pakistan in Kashmir. A move that surprised Islamabad. Mr. Vajpayee managed to convince hawks in his right-wing Bharatiya Janta Party and Sangh Parivar.

A top leader of Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh, an umbrella of right-wing outfits, welcomed Vajpayee’s move which was contrary to the statements emanating from hawks. “We welcome the Government’s policy of improving relations with the neighbours but the neighbouring countries too must make their intentions clear through actions,” RSS Joint General Secretary Madan Das Devi said in New Delhi.

The urgency that forced Mr. Vajpayee to announce offer of talks even took Indian opposition parties by surprise who insist that Vajpayee should take them into confidence before negotiating with Pakistan. The developments in Iraq had over and cover impact on the current thaw in Indo-Pakistan relations. Mr. Vajpayee candidly admitted in Kashmir that both the nuclear neighbours had to find ways to defuse tension in sub-continent.

The talks offer came after US announced that deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage would visit the sub-continent in May. It is pertinent to note that Armitage considers India and Pakistan tension frightening.

Armitage in an address to the National Defence University the situation in South Asia, particularly between India and Pakistan with a thousand-mile shared border and a 50-year history of enmity and war – is truly frightening when you add into the mix nuclear weapons outside the system of international restraints.

India and Pakistan may announce some confidence builing measures before Armitage’s visit. Pakistan Government could open up its skies to the Indian flights, propose the appointment of the High Commissioner in New Delhi, and liberalise visa regime.

India downgraded the mission in Pakistan, following the December 13 attack and six months later asked Islamabad to withdraw its then High Commissioner, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi on grounds of `parity’. Air links were snapped from January 1, 2002. Expectations are high that Prime Minister of Pakistan Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali is likely to visit New Delhi to break the ice further.

Observers say that Jamali is honest in his approach towards India as could be gauged from the fact that Jamali is the only Pakistani Prime Minister who skirted Kashmir problem in his address to the Parliament after being elected leader of the house. His initiative of calling Vajpayee has paid dividend as even Vajpayee is not averse to visit Pakistan. However, Vajpayee will find it hard to repeat the Lahore experience in the wake of general Parliamentary elections scheduled next year.

The eagerness of Pakistan to carry forward the peace initiative was also evident from the statement made by the Prime Minister, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali that in case Mr. Vajpayee was unable to travel to Islamabad, he was prepared to go to New Delhi for a dialogue. India is also coming to terms that US is keen on close contacts with regime in Pakistan as was evident from the state department report on terrorism. India expected US to include Pakistan on the list of countries supporting terrorism. More surprising was President Bush’s praise for Pakistan in checking Al Qaeda activites in Pakistan.

As a latest move, India has asked Pakistan to consider whether raising the Jammu and Kashmir issue in the UN Security Council would be compatible with the ‘hand of friendship’ extended by it and rejected a suggestion that the gesture for peace was made under us pressure. Pakistan will chair UN Security Council this month.

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