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If Kashmir blows up, all bets off: US
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

Warning that if Kashmir “blows up” then “all bets are off,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the US is encouraging Pakistan to mend relations with India so that it can focus on the terrorists that threaten Pakistan.

Testifying before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday, Clinton acknowledged, “changing paradigms and mindsets is not easy.” She said the Obama administration has had a series of meetings, with both the Pakistanis and the Afghans, on how to get the Pakistani government to change their focus from “what they viewed as their existential threat, namely India, to what we view as their existential threat, namely this extremist insurgency.”

She added that Washington was encouraging the Pakistani government to reach out to the Indian government and “continue some of those confidence-building measures that they were doing, like opening the bus routes in Kashmir and other things that did have some positive effect.”

“If Kashmir blows up, and insurgents come over that Line of Control (LoC), every day or at least every week, then all bets are off,” Clinton said. “But if the Pakistani army stays on the LoC and on the Indian border and doesn’t turn their attentions to dealing with the insurgents, we’ve got a mess on our hands. So we do have to navigate through this.” Clinton said there had to be effort to enhance confidence between India and Pakistan. But, she added, those were not likely to be undertaken until the Indian elections were over.

US officials are concerned that the Pakistani army’s preoccupation with a perceived threat from India is distracting it from the task of defeating the Taliban and other extremists that have poured over the Afghan border to within a 100 km from Islamabad.

Clinton said both the Obama and the Bush administrations had worked very hard to prevent India from reacting to the Mumbai attacks. “But we know that the insurgents, Al-Qaida and their syndicate partners are pretty smart.

They are not going to cease their attacks, inside India, because they are looking for exactly the kind of reaction that we all hope to prevent,” she warned. She described India’s restraint as “remarkable” since the attacks took place in the political season.

Clinton told lawmakers she believes there is an “increasing awareness, on the part of not just the Pakistani government but Pakistani people, that this insurgency coming closer and closer to major cities does pose such a threat.” Her remark was a volte-face on comments she made a day earlier to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. On Wednesday, she called on Pakistanis, Pakistani Americans and others in the diaspora to “speak out forcefully” in an effort to change the attitudes of the Pakistani government.

Asked about this change in tone, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said US officials have been talking to officials in Islamabad “at various levels for quite some time.”

“We’ve made very clear our concerns about the Taliban and Al-Qaida. And the government there is well aware.

We don’t need to tell the government of Pakistan what a threat these extremists are,” he said, declining to say whether any of these conversations had taken place in the 24 hours between Clinton’s two remarks that could have prompted a shift in thought.



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