Oct 18, 2008

World - Ignoring Pak protest,US general visits Siachen

Chidanand Rajghatta

WASHINGTON: Washington's response to Pakistan's complaint about the visit to Siachen Glacier in India by the US Army Chief General George Casey? Cold

Hours after Islamabad loudly remonstrated about General Casey's reported programme to the highest battlefield in the world, which Pakistan considers a disputed territory, a senior US official in Washington confirmed the outing, while pointedly ignoring the Pakistani protest.

"As you all know, Gen Casey is in India and he was up in Siachen today," Evan Feigenbaum, deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asian affairs, told an Indian media round table on Friday on US-India relations. "Exciting things are happening in defense."

The remarks followed an unexpected protest from Islamabad over Casey's journey to the region to study Indian expertise and tactics in high-altitude battlefield conditions which could come in handy for US troops in Afghanistan's front with Pakistan.

A Pakistani foreign office spokesman said on Thursday that "any such visit to an area which is disputed and which is under discussion between Pakistan and India will certainly cast a shadow on the ongoing composite dialogue between the two neighbours."

The Pakistan objection seems to be more pro-forma than a meaningful one considering India has taken several foreign diplomats and generals to Kashmir, and even conducted military exercises in the region. It is now widely accepted in Washington that the boundaries between India and Pakistan, including the Line of Control, will not be redrawn, and any solution to the Kashmir issue will be within the ambit of the current boundaries.

While the Kashmir issue as a "dispute" has gradually receded into the background, saner voices are suggesting that the time is ripe for India and Pakistan to settle the matter broadly along existing lines.

"The Government of India has stated that maps cannot be redrawn. The Government of Pakistan has stated that the status quo is unacceptable. One way to proceed toward a settlement would be to accept both positions and devise new regional bodies that would overlay the current map of a divided Kashmir. These regional bodies could deal with trade, tourism, power generation, pilgrimages, and other matters," the Washington think-tank Stimson Center said in a recent paper on confidence building measures between the two sides.

For a section of the Pakistani establishment though, not redrawing the maps would amount to a status quo. But under pressure from Washington and the international community, Islamabad is being persuaded to move towards a solution on the existing lines, particularly in view of Pakistan's parlous situation that makes continued confrontation with India untenable.

The Stimson paper approvingly noted that a delegation of business leaders from Muzaffarabad recently has crossed the Line of Control dividing Kashmir to discuss the modalities of expanded trade. Pakistan's top peacenik rock band, Junoon, which arguably has a larger fan following in India than in its own home, was allowed by the Indian government to perform at Srinagar in the biggest musical event in the disputed valley in decades.

The objection to Gen Casey's Siachen visit is seen here as part of a series of confused responses from the out-of-kilter Pakistani establishment that seems to be working at cross purposes. While Pakistan's newly elected president Asif Ali Zardari has been pushing for peace with New Delhi, going to the extent of saying India has never been a threat to Pakistan, the military establishment, whose budgets depend on a confrontational posture with India, had been chafing at the bit.

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