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June 8, 2000
The US mediator in J&K a furniture dealer?
Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi
Despite denials by Washington and New Delhi, the case of the mysterious US-based Kashmiri trying to resolve the Kashmir issue is getting curiouser and curiouser.
Investigations by rediff.com reveal that there might be, after all, some truth in the Jane's Intelligence Digest report, which said a US-based Kashmiri was acting as a mediator between New Delhi and Islamabad in a bid to solve the Kashmir dispute.
However, US State Department spokesman Philip Reeker denied the report and said: "The US has not changed its approach in Kashmir. We do not see ourselves as mediators."
In New Delhi, a spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs described the report as speculative and pointed out that there was no scope for any third-party mediation in Kashmir.
According to top sources in the MEA, the US-based Kashmiri is Farooq Kathwari, an affluent businessman who deals in expensive furniture.
It is learnt that Kathwari had been 'sounded out' by senior US officials keen to ensure that the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan is resolved.
Kathwari was in New Delhi early this year and reportedly stayed at the Hyatt Regency hotel.
It is learnt that Kathwari provided substantial funds to the US-based Kashmir Study Group, which has been straining every resource for a permanent solution to the dispute.
Significantly, US officials have evinced keen interest in the Kashmir Study group, with which they are said to be maintaining discreet albeit consistent contact.
Consequently, Kathwari emerged as the shadowy businessman with a penchant for diplomacy and a yen to be " wined and dined " by powerful government officials in Washington, New Delhi and Islamabad.
He is said to have considerable access in government circles in Washington, New Delhi and Islamabad and is also being wooed by the All Party Hurriyat Conference, one of the principal actors in the dispute.
It is learnt that following US President Bill Clinton's recent visit to India and the all-too-brief one to Pakistan, Kathwari received considerable boost to his efforts following which he came to both New Delhi and Islamabad.
Ever since the Kashmir crisis gained international spotlight just over a decade ago, the US has been keen to mediate under a perceived notion that the Himalayan region has become a nuclear flashpoint.
While Pakistan has backed US efforts for mediation, India has firmly ruled it out, underscoring that it is a bilateral matter and has to be resolved under the Simla Agreement.
The presence of another 'actor' in the Kashmir drama - London-based Nasir Gilani - is equally mysterious. Gilani is said to be a champion of human rights and his recent visit to New Delhi reportedly had Indian government officials and Hurriyat leaders 'running' after him.
While Gilani boasted to friends in New Delhi that he was a guest of the Indian government, MEA officials denied they knew him.
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