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MARGARET WARNER: With tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir threatening to break out into war, the President sent Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to the region last week to try to cool things down. Armitage met Thursday with President Musharraf in Pakistan, then traveled to India the next day for talks with Prime Minister Vajpayee. By the time he left Saturday, the rhetoric had cooled and both nations said they were taking steps to ease the situation. Deputy Secretary Armitage joins us now. And welcome, Mr. Secretary.
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Good evening, Ms. Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: Good evening. India today reopened its air space to Pakistan. Is the crisis over?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, I don’t think when you have nearly a million men shouting and glaring and occasionally shooting across a disputed border that you can say the crisis has passed, but certainly tensions are down.
MARGARET WARNER: Musharraf has previously pledged to stop the infiltration; he’s even said he’d stop the infiltration. India never credited those pledges. Why did India seem to believe it more coming from you?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, I believe that both the Indian leaders and the leadership of Pakistan is responding to the international concern expressed about the need to avoid this crisis, first of all. Second, I believe, as you’ve seen from Indian official statements, the Indian government now agrees with the West that infiltrations are down, and I believe they give President Musharraf credit for having done that.
MARGARET WARNER: Were you able to show them, for instance, U.S. intelligence reports showing the infiltrations down?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: I was able to talk, I think, convincingly with our Indian colleagues about the fact that both the U.S. and Great Britain find that the infiltrations are down, and it seems now that Indian intelligence agrees with us.
MARGARET WARNER: Before you left on the trip, how close did you think these two countries really were to going to war and perhaps even with the danger of that sliding into a kind of nuclear conflict?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, I think that the international community, and particularly the press, was more hysterical on this issue than we were, but clearly there was an escalatory trend that didn’t seem to have an end point short of war. There was a feeling in the U.S. government that if we could get a break, if we could call for a halt in the escalation, then good solid, reasonable leadership on both sides of the problem would find ways to deescalate, and this apparently has happened.
MARGARET WARNER: Tell us a little bit about your meeting with Musharraf. The reports are that you talked very bluntly with him; that you had an intelligence dossier showing army and Pakistani intelligence support for the militants in Kashmir; that you even said, if this didn’t stop, U.S. might have to move its bases from Pakistan to India. Are those reports correct?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, I don’t know where you got those reports. I didn’t carry any dossiers at all. I had a very straightforward and frank discussion with President Musharraf, who is a man of great dignity and honor and very straightforward. We didn’t have to waste much time with small talk. We got right into the hopes and aspirations of the people of Pakistan, as well as the problems and most particularly, the possibility of al-Qaida using the Kashmir situation to actually bring about a war between Pakistan and India and the absolute need to avoid this.
MARGARET WARNER: So how do you read now his intentions and his capabilities when it comes to really cracking down on this infiltration?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: We value the assurances that President Musharraf gave to the U.S. government, in effect, to the President of the United States. We think he will exert every effort to stop the infiltration. I think even the most ardent nationalist on the Indian side would say that President Musharraf cannot stop everything, but that he needs to be seen as exerting every effort in his capacity, and I think we’ll see that.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that exposes him to political danger at home?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, I think clearly there is a domestic backlash of some sort, but I will recall that prior to the January 12 speech which President Musharraf made, there were pundits who were saying that no leader could say in Pakistan what he said and hold his streets together. He made a very valiant speech, and he held things together well, and I think the same will be true this time.
MARGARET WARNER: Now did you have equally straightforward talks with the Indians, in terms of the need for India to reciprocate?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: We had very straightforward talks with all of the top Indian leadership, ad seriatim, ending up with the prime minister. They were full and frank, there is a great variety of opinion and the Indian government as one would expect of a great democracy, so there was a full airing of the situation, I can assure you.
MARGARET WARNER: And so what is your understanding of what India’s prepared to do if it becomes, as it seems to be, convinced that Musharraf is serious here?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, I’ve seen today that India has reestablished commercial air links and allowed over flights from Pakistan. They’ve named an ambassador to be the high commissioner to Islamabad. And my understanding is the fleets have started to sail back south. These are very good beginnings, and I’m sure if the Indian government is convinced that things are moving in the right direction regarding the assurances the government of Pakistan, one could expect further de-escalation.
MARGARET WARNER: Now Pakistan, of course, wants to really open a dialogue — they keep saying — about all the issues between them, including the future of Kashmir. Do you think India is ready to do that?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, I think it might be a bit premature to start that tomorrow, but as things deescalate, clearly there can be a dialogue. I’ll note that in 1972, when both countries signed the similar accord, that they both acknowledged that the question of Kashmir was a bilateral issue. They have had dialogue in the past on this issue, and I expect in the future they will be able to engage in it.
MARGARET WARNER: But Pakistan would also like some international mediation. Do you see that kind of a role?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, I don’t think mediation is in the cards right now, but clearly the recent crisis has put Kashmir on the international agenda in a way that it has never been before, and there will be a lot of international attention to, attempting to find a resolution of the question.
MARGARET WARNER: On the immediate Kashmir crisis, the two countries have, they both seem to be talking about some sort of monitoring or verification along the line of control, but they have conflicting proposals. What do you see as a workable solution there, and did you discuss that with them?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, I’ve discussed the monitoring proposal with both sides. From the Pakistani point of view, they could have Indian and Pakistani monitors as long as there was an international component. Their feeling is it’s very difficult to take people who have been shooting at each other one day and making them join hands and jointly monitor the next. From the Indian point of view, there should be strictly a bilateral monitoring mechanism with only Indian and Pakistani troops taking part. I suspect things will clarify over time, but there is no resolution to that yet.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you see a U.S. role?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, I think we’ve already had a role in moving back and forth to India, so that will continue. I don’t right now see the need for U.S. monitors.
MARGARET WARNER: And what about the sharing of intelligence in terms of being able to, at least from the air, monitor or verify what’s going on?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: I think this is very much something that can be considered, and if there is a willingness from both sides to engage in it, I think the United States would be delighted.
MARGARET WARNER: If this de-escalation works, what will it take to make it stable enough that it just doesn’t flare up again in six months? We have all these periodic flare-ups between India and Pakistan otherwise.
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, we’ve had 55 years of periodic flare-ups between India and Pakistan. I think that the highest order on the agenda is to have a regional de-escalation in terms of al-Qaida and terrorist presence, and terrorism as a way to accomplish political objectives. And after that has happened both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, then I think the regional situation will be much better and be much more conducive to a logical discussion of the future of Kashmir.
MARGARET WARNER: Speaking of al-Qaida in that region of the world, the alleged dirty bomber plotter that was revealed today was arrested flying back to Chicago from Pakistan in early May, apparently held all these meetings with al-Qaida, other al-Qaida officials in major cities in Pakistan, Lahore and Karachi. Does Pakistan really remain still a hotbed of international terrorist activity, not just against India in Kashmir, but against the U.S.?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: I think the way you put it, Pakistan is a hotbed of international terrorist activity, is not the way I would describe it. Certainly Pakistan had Jihadist elements in its society and certainly they’ve been a neighbor to Afghanistan and a lot of that trouble has crossed the border, but I would note that Pakistan has been very helpful in a number of occasions and has arrested many bad elements, and I fully expect that that cooperation will continue and I fully expect Secretary Rumsfeld and President Musharraf will talk about further cooperation from Pakistan in the future.
MARGARET WARNER: And Secretary Rumsfeld does get to the region tomorrow. What is his brief?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, I think first of all he will stop in Delhi to talk to Indian officials about their appreciation of the last few days over the line of control, and he will be traveling on to Pakistan to share those views with President Musharraf, and I think clearly there are other strictly bilateral issues, the war on terrorism, Mr. Rumsfeld will want to talk to President Musharraf about.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Secretary Armitage, thanks very much.
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Thank you.