K Alan Kronstadt’s interview with Rediff .
K Alan Kronstadt is a point man for South Asia in the Congressional Research Service, the United States Congress’ research arm which is often called the legislative branch’s own think tank.
On Kashmiris and Pakistan
Q. Was there anything else that really surprised you, helped calm your fears?
Another thing that surprised me on the ground there was how positive a view many people had of Pakistan’s role, and how President Musharraf’s role was not viewed with the negativity I had expected.
Many, many people in Kashmir were actually very positive about the role that Pakistan is playing and used the word flexibility in talking about Musharraf’s role. The word came up again and again that he, more than any other Pakistani leader, had (exhibited flexibility).
Q. Why did you go in with a perception that Musharraf’s role would not be viewed favourably? After all, the Indians have always accused Pakistan of supporting and arming militants in Kashmir. Musharraf has always tried to give the Kashmir people the assurance that Pakistan would always be there for them and that Kashmir and the aspirations of its people is an issue always close to Pakistan’s heart.
I think it was because of the so-called cross-border terrorism — the message that comes from Delhi. Of course, we did talk to security people in Kashmir, and they were very clear that terrorists came across with the assistance of some elements in Pakistan. So they weren’t optimistic or positive about Pakistan’s role. But many of the people on the ground — who I didn’t get a chance to talk to when I was in Washington but only when they visit — had a very different perspective about Pakistan’s role.
On the large security presence in Kashmir
Q. And, what about the Indian government’s role? Did you feel that when you spoke to the people on the ground, there were positive vibes — anything on par of what they felt for Musharraf and the government of Pakistan?
Not necessarily on par. That was, I think, a little more mixed. Some people felt that Delhi was taking the complaints of the Kashmiri people more seriously. (But) it was very jarring to see the large security presence in Srinagar. This is something I hadn’t expected.
I knew about it intellectually, but when I got on the ground, there were soldiers and police everywhere — the police , of course, were like paramilitary troops, so they looked like soldiers.
There was something oppressive about the security presence in Srinagar and even out in the countryside. You really couldn’t get away from it. It’s like you were reminded, everywhere you looked, that there was a security problem. I could see how the people there might even feel like there was an occupying army because I do know some people feel that way.
A significant reduction of this overwhelming security presence is what the Kashmiri leadership and international human rights groups have always been calling for as an important good-faith, confidence-building measure to get the peace process going. But Delhi argues it has to put down the militancy and counter cross-border terrorism which it says continues unabated and for which it blames Pakistan.
I heard a lot of stories about the impunity with which some of the security forces can act. (I heard) anecdotal cases of extortions on the street. I also happened to run into Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch while I was there. And so some of these stories really did come out.
On the role of United States in Kashmir
The United States playing a mediating role is out of the question. It’s a non-starter, and I don’t think it’s necessary. In general, the approach needs to be between India and Pakistan and in some manner incorporating the wishes of the Kashmiri people.
It’s important to not view this as a strictly bilateral issue. The United States in whatever way it acts, it needs to do so quietly. So it has to be mostly behind closed doors. I think good offices, some encouragement, diplomatic patting on the back, to bring this to a resolution, because everyone understands that a resolution of this is good for everyone. So if we can find a resolution that everyone can live with, it would do wonderful things for the subcontinent.
Q. When you say diplomatic patting on the back, does this also mean simultaneous nudging?
Sure. I mean there can be a carrot and stick. But it needs to be very subtle and very understanding of and sensitive to the problems on the ground, which, to some extent, I have encouraged. And the administration understands this. Again, I just hope that we don’t see the Kashmiri people feel left out of whatever comes out (with regard to the peace process). It can’t be settled as government-to-government alone.
This interview gains significance in the light of the recent claims by Mirwaiz Omer that America is mediating in the Kashmir issue and that the next two years would be very crucial for Kashmir. It is interesting to see that Alan refers to the Indian claims of cross-border terrorism as ‘so-called cross-border terrorism,’ and subtly calls it the Indian propaganda (‘the message that comes from Delhi’). He has, to a large extent, gauged well the feelings of the Kashmiri people and has indeed felt the oppressive nature of the massive security presence in Kashmir. A solution, if one is near, should never be government to government alone, as that would be no solution at all.