WASHINGTON, June 9 (UPI) -- Does the United States have a "road map" for Kashmir, similar to the one it proposed for the Middle East?
Despite denials by all three concerned parties -- India, Pakistan and the United States -- media in both India and Pakistan insist that there indeed is such a document.
The stories are based on a paper prepared by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad that details the U.S. strategy for promoting peace in south Asia.
The State Department, asked to comment on these reports, said there in fact was such a paper. "But it's a budget paper and such papers are prepared by all U.S. missions to justify their budget requests," said a State Department spokesman.
"It does not mean that the administration actually has a roadmap or a plan that it is trying to implement," he added.
But the document published in the south Asian papers, which the State Department refuses to confirm or deny as the one prepared by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, does offer a detailed plan for resolving the 56-year-old Kashmir dispute.
Kashmir, situated in the Himalayan valley, and India's only Muslim majority state, has already caused two wars between neighbors who now have nuclear capabilities. Last summer they came close to yet another war, stirring fears of a nuclear confrontation in one of the world's most populous regions.
The U.S. Embassy's purported budget document, which is being touted as a Kashmir "road map" by the south Asian media, proposes a joint India-Pakistan force to patrol the Line of Control that divides Kashmir into Indian- and Pakistani-controlled areas.
The paper stipulates that the proposed force will be deployed along the LoC by the end of 2004, and calls for a process to resolve the Kashmir dispute to begin in 2005.
But prior to that, the United States urges both India and Pakistan to help replace extremist leaders in Kashmir with moderate politicians. It hopes to achieve this target by the end of 2003.
Defending an increased U.S. involvement in south Asia, the document observes that, "the last 12 months have convincingly shown that U.S. global and regional interests require close engagement with Pakistan."
The paper underlines a three-point action plan for Kashmir: (1) Pakistan should prevent the infiltration of militants across the LoC; (2) Pakistan should move against terrorists and help bring them to justice by supporting more effective law enforcement capabilities; and (3) the United States should facilitate India-Pakistan dialogue on Kashmir.
Before tackling the Kashmir issue, the document urges both India and Pakistan to resume bilateral talks, stalled since a terrorist attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001.
Once bilateral contacts are formalized, India and Pakistan should reduce their troops along the LoC and establish military-to-military contacts to end cross-border clashes in Kashmir where they are an almost daily routine, the paper says.
Although the United States publicly denies being involved in facilitating peace talks between India and Pakistan, it has remained engaged with both since last summer when it prevented them from going to war once again. Observers say it was U.S. involvement that led to a surprise announcement by the Indian Prime Minister in April this year that he was willing to resume bilateral talks with Pakistan.
Soon after the announcement, the Bush administration sent Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to the region, which was followed by visits to Washington by several senior Indian and Pakistani officials including the chief of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, an agency India accuses of fomenting troubles in Kashmir.
Visits by the Pakistani foreign minister, the Indian national security adviser, an Indian parliamentary delegation and Pakistani commerce minister, all came in quick successions.
Commerce Minister Humayun Akhtar Khan is incidentally the son of Gen. Akhtar Abdur Rahman, the former chief of ISI who is regarded as the builder of Pakistan's Afghan and Kashmir policies.
On Sunday, the Indian Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani arrived in Washington, while Khan is still in town.
Advani, so far, is the most senior south Asian leader to visit Washington since the current peace process began. In India, Advani is seen as a hawk who is opposed to normalizing relations with Pakistan. If the United States succeeds in winning him over, it will give a major boost to its efforts for ending tensions in the subcontinent.
Advani's visit comes two weeks ahead of a summit meeting between President Bush and President Pervez Musharraf at Camp David, Maryland, scheduled for June 24. The selection of Camp David, a presidential resort reserved for important bilateral talks, shows the interest the Bush administration is taking in resolving the India-Pakistan disputes.
During his meeting with Musharraf, President George W. Bush is expected to raise the issue of joint patrolling along the LoC, diplomatic sources say. The joint monitoring was first proposed by India several years ago but Pakistan said it would prefer a team of international monitors. India rejected the counter-proposal.
The U.S. Embassy's budget document also requires Pakistan to prevent Kashmiri militant groups and their supporters from openly raising money. This, it says, would build India's confidence in the peace process. Once the level of confidence between New Delhi and Islamabad is raised, the two neighbors should take more confidence-building measures to improve the environment, the paper suggests.
In 2005, when the United States hopes to launch full-fledged efforts for resolving the Kashmir dispute, the U.S. document suggests a number of these measures, such as: (1) ensuring regular movement of civilian traffic across the LoC; (2) giving Kashmiri politicians prominence in political discourse; and (3) evolving a framework for an eventual political resolution of the Kashmir problem.
According to this paper, the U.S. mission in Pakistan vows to make aggressive diplomatic efforts to defuse tension and set the two neighbors on the path of cooperation rather than confrontation.
"This is an enormous task with tremendous benefits if we succeed and potentially dangerous consequences if we do not. The high-level diplomatic engagement with both India and Pakistan must be sustained," the paper says.
The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, which began working on the document in 2001 when Kashmiri militant groups enjoyed strong Pakistani support, noted that "restoration of democratic rule and further progress in curbing Pakistan's support for extremist activities should eventually lead to fundamentally better Pakistani relations with India."
The stabilization of India-Pakistan relations, it observes will reduce defense spending, facilitate increased economic and investment opportunities in both countries, and help Pakistan focus on democratization and anti-terrorism efforts.