May 25, 2020
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"Trust Has Been A Casualty"

The US assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs Karl "Rick" Inderfurth speaks with L.A. Joseph in Washington on America's role in the Kargil crisis and its aftermath. Excerpts:

"Trust Has Been A Casualty"

How do you see the future of Indo-Pak relations in the wake of Kargil?

Even with the Kargil crisis apparently over, tensions between India and Pakistan remain high. Trust has been a casualty of the 75 days of fight-ing. Still, it's our hope that the two countries will resume the dialogue initiated at Lahore as soon as possible. Prime minister Vajpayee was quoted recently as saying—"We want to permanently resolve the Kashmir problem." That commitment, combined with a similar one from prime minister Sharif, could lead to a historic turning point for the subcontinent.

How can the US help prevent Kargil-like situations from occurring in the future?

President Clinton has made it clear that he has a "personal interest" in encouraging an expeditious resumption and intensification of bilateral efforts to resolve the Kashmir dispute. He'll do what he can to see that these bilateral efforts are successful. At the same time he fully appreciates the fact that the leaders of India and Pakistan are the ones with the responsibility to prevent future Kargils.

Despite indicating that they will both sign the CTBT, neither India nor Pakistan have done so. What steps is the administration taking to persuade them?

Security and non-proliferation remain an important part of our relationships with India and Pakistan. Secretary Albright discussed this with Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh in Singapore, and the CTBT was a focus of the Asean Regional Forum meeting she attended there. Deputy secretary Strobe Talbott has had eight rounds of talks on these issues with his counterparts in each country. We'll continue our dialogue with both countries while taking into account the fact that India's elections, beginning in September, will influence the timing of India's consideration of this issue. We hope, at the appropriate moment, India will sign the CTBT because India has determined it is in its national interest to do so.

Tensions remain high over Kashmir. Shelling continues, as does terrorism. The situation can always reverse itself.

The Washington Post, quoting unnamed Clinton administration officials, says India was preparing to invade Pakistan during the Kargil crisis and President Clinton's personal mediation helped prevent a full scale war....

The Kargil crisis was serious and dangerous, no doubt about it. The United States and other countries tried to play a constructive role in encouraging India and Pakistan to resolve it, quickly and peacefully. American officials at every level, up to the president, were actively involved in this task. President Clinton had several telephone conversations and exchanges of correspondence with prime ministers Sharif and Vajpayee. Secretary of State Albright made telephone calls, as did deputy secretary Talbott. National security advisor Berger met with principal secretary (Brajesh) Mishra in Geneva. I was very heavily engaged throughout the crisis, including with ambassador Naresh Chandra in Washington. Our immediate objectives were to see a restoration of the Line of Control and to keep the conflict from spreading, by urging restraint. Beyond that, and once the LoC was restored, we wanted to see the two countries come to an understanding on ending the fighting and resume their dialogue. We worked closely on this with other concerned nations in Europe and Asia. We were not, however, mediators. The hard work was done, and the hard decisions were made, by the leaders of the two countries. In the longer run, what remains central is the need for India and Pakistan to resolve their differences through direct dialogue, as was envisioned at the Lahore summit last February. The Kargil crisis only underlined the truth that a shooting conflict between two nuclear-capable powers provokes strong concern in the international community.

The Kargil crisis underlined the truth that a shooting conflict between two N-powers provokes strong international concern.

The Post also qualifies President Clinton's success as "short-term" and says the position could reverse itself....

Hopefully, the fighting in the Kargil sector has ended for good. There is no question, though, that tensions remain high over Kashmir. Military action, including shelling, continues along the LoC, as do acts of terrorism. As long as tensions remain high, and people are dying, the situation can always reverse itself.

Many feel India and Pakistan have weaponised versions of their nuclear devices that can be delivered from airplanes, and that Pakistan might have been tempted to play the nuclear card if cornered. Do you have any evidence that either country was actually preparing to resort to nuclear weapons?

During the Kargil crisis we frequently expressed our concern that the fighting could spread, either by intention or miscalculation. We were aware that both countries were taking what we viewed as contingency steps with conventional forces to prepare in the event that hostilities did spread beyond the Kargil sector. India was obviously deeply concerned about the situation and took prudent, defensive measures in response. In the end, restraint was the order of the day, leading to de-escalation of the crisis and its resolution.

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