Congressmen Begin South Asia Visit With Eyes Fixed On Kashmir Conflict
July 7, 2008
New Delhi (CNSNews.com) - A bipartisan U.S. congressional delegation arrives in India over the weekend on a 10-day tour of India and Pakistan during which they will review the Kashmir conflict and assess American aid efforts in the aftermath of last month's deadly earthquake.
Analysts said the first congressional visit to South Asia since President Bush assumed office would provide the new administration with a fresh perspective on the issues of the region.
The team is comprised of the chief minority whip in the House of Representatives, Rep. David Bonior (D-Mich.), Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), and the co-chairs of the congressional caucus on India--Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.).
During their stay in the region, they will meet senior government officials and representatives of political and militant groups in Kashmir, visiting both parts of the divided territory, which is claimed by India and Pakistan.
Delegation leader Royce came under strong criticism from the Indian community in the U.S. and the Indian government for planning to visit Pakistan. He subsequently canceled his plan to do so, although other members are due to visit Islamabad.
McDermott told reporters the delegation was not bringing any solution to the Kashmir issue.
"We know that we are not going to go there with an answer. We are not sure we even know what the answer is."
The delegates hoped, however, to see whether they could be helpful in any way.
India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars, since independence in 1947, over Kashmir. The two new nuclear powers stopped short of another war in May 1999, with behind-the-scenes American diplomacy helping to prevent a feared nuclear confrontation.
While India has opposed third party mediation in resolving the vexed issue, Pakistan supports international intervention to help find a solution.
"At the core of my interest in going on this trip is somehow to get this thing resolved," McDermott said. "I think like the Middle East. It drains people's efforts; it drains money; it drains a lot of national effort ..."
Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raminder Singh Jassal said New Delhi had never opposed the visit of foreign delegations to Kashmir, as it wanted them to understand the reality on the ground, including the proxy-war waged by Pakistan through Kashmiri militants.
Ram Mohan, a foreign policy expert at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the American delegation's visit would provide crucial input in the framing of the new administration's South Asia policy.
"The new relationship forged by the estranged democracies of the Cold War era during Clinton's presidency will [either] be consolidated or wither away in the political and diplomatic sphere, based on the impression gathered by this delegation," he said.
The delegation will also visit the earthquake-hit areas in the eastern Gujarat province and assess U.S. aid efforts.
More than 100,000 people are thought to have died in the earthquake, and many thousands more were injured. The official toll, based on the number of bodies counted, stands around 25,000.
The quake, which struck in the second most industrialized state in India on January 26, completely destroyed five towns and a large number of villages.