Human Rights in S. Asia Should Concern US

In response to the editorial ``Talbott Passage to India,'' April 7, I take exception to the assessment that the Clinton administration blundered in developing relations with India.

The editorial equates Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphael's statements of United States policy on Kashmir with questioning India's sovereignty. Her statements do no such thing. Ms. Raphael's statements have only been a reiteration of long-standing US policy toward Kashmir, based on the United Nations Security Council resolutions of 1948 and 1949 that call for a plebiscite in Kashmir to allow its citizens to determine their own political future.

As the editorial points out, this dispute has resulted in massive human rights abuses in Kashmir. More than 25,000 people have been killed in the valley since 1990, and an average of 15 people a day continue to die because of the dispute. India's 500,000 security forces in Kashmir are also responsible for what the US State Department and human rights groups have called ``significant'' human rights abuses against Kashmiri people.

Your solution to the dispute and the US-India diplomatic row is putting ``pressure on India, not questioning borders.'' This solution might be possible had Kashmir been part of India. But as the UN resolutions - reiterated by US policy - declare, this is not the case. Kashmir is a disputed territory.

The answer lies in two parts: Confidence building and political dialogue.

A process of confidence-building measures should first include a reduction of India's military presence in Kashmir and an immediate end to the human rights abuses. Corresponding to this would be a reduction of militant activity in the valley.

Once confidence has been established, India, Pakistan, and the people of Kashmir will be able to engage in a peaceful dialogue.

In order to effectively participate in such a dialogue, the Kashmiri people have organized the All Parties Freedom (Hurriyat) Conference. The Hurriyat is comprised of 34 Kashmiri parties spanning the political spectrum. The Hurriyat's mandate is to achieve a peaceful solution. The government of India has beaten and imprisoned much of the organization's leadership. Prisoners of conscience must be released and allowed to participate in any process for peace.

It is clear that the US covets India's enormous market. The opportunity to sell US goods to nearly 1 billion people cannot be overlooked. However, the US should not ignore India's human rights abuses or sacrifice the political rights of Kashmiris.

Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott's visit and Raphael's fence-mending do not mean that the US has retreated from its Kashmir policy. Nor should it. Settlement of the Kashmir dispute is central to the administration's regional policy on nonproliferation. Ghulam Nabi Fai, Washington Exececutive Director Kashmiri-American Council

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