U.S. envoy takes a different track

SRINAGAR DEC. 7. Has the United States' policy on Kashmir really changed post-September 11? If the recent visit of the U.S. Ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, to Jammu and Kashmir is any indicator, its approach towards the problems in Kashmir is certainly on a different track.

For the first time in several years of strife in Kashmir, Mr. Blackwill is the first diplomat of the U.S. or any other country who has not only ignored the separatist camp but has publicly branded the armed struggle as "terrorism''.

He sprang a surprise in the Kashmir Valley by confining himself to the Army's hospitality and staying away from the civilian population. The previous U.S. Ambassadors Frank Wisner and Richard F Celeste had, during their high-profile visits to Kashmir, held extensive discussions with the separatist All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), separatist leader Shabir Shah and other groups. They had also interacted with the civilian authorities and journalists. Mr. Celeste had also visited the Bone and Joint Hospital where the maximum number of victims of militancy received treatment.

Also, U.S. Ambassadors had never branded Kashmir's armed struggle as "terrorism'' and always talked about an end to violence as a prelude to a political solution to the Kashmir problem. Mr. Wisner and Mr. Celeste had also impressed upon the Hurriyat to participate in the recent Assembly elections in the State. Mr. Blackwill's stay at the Corps headquarters here and the extensive visit to the forward areas was significant in many ways. He not only questioned Pakistan's stand on the Kashmir struggle, but also reportedly discussed the installation of ground sensors along the Line of Control to check the Pakistan-backed infiltration.

In Jammu, Mr. Blackwill met the Governor, G.C. Saxena, the Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the former Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah, and the CPI(M) leader, Yusuf Tarigami, much to the discomfort of the Hurriyat leaders.

He said the U.S. campaign against terror was incomplete unless the problem was addressed in Jammu and Kashmir. Mr. Blackwill also discussed the possibilities of economic development in war-ravaged Kashmir, putting the political issues again on the backburner. The Hurriyat has accused Mr. Blackwill of toeing the Indian line. "It is unfortunate he did not meet the separatists, but I believe there is no shift in the U.S. policy on Kashmir,'' said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, former Hurriyat chairman. A newly-elected MLA and convener of the People's Democratic Forum, Mohiuddin Sofi, said Mr. Blackwill not meeting the Hurriyat Conference was "not a good decision". "They cannot be ignored,'' he said.

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