Did US use its influence in ‘setting off talks’ in Kashmir?

Srinagar: A month before the Union government announced Dineshwar Sharma as an interlocutor to initiate dialogue with various stake holders in Jammu and Kashmir, a United States diplomat visited Srinagar and met three state ministers and civil society activists to access the ground situation, a report by Indian Express said.

According to the report, the diplomat wanted “to know the ground situation and understand the feasibility of a dialogue”.

On September 27, Joshua Goldberg, political unit chief at the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs in Washington DC, visited Srinagar along with David Arulanantham, an official from the US Embassy in New Delhi.

Quoting sources the report said that Goldberg and David stayed for a night and met three ministers in the Mehbooba Mufti government, human rights lawyer Parvez Imroz, Khurram Parvez of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society and two journalists.

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis had arrived in India a day earlier — the first cabinet-level visit to India under the Trump administration.

“He was, in diplomatic style, enquiring about the scope for dialogue and whether Kashmiris would welcome dialogue,’’ one among those who met Goldberg told the newspaper.

“He also wanted to know the ground situation, especially after last year’s agitation and spurt in militant recruitment.”

On October 23, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh called a press conference in New Delhi to announce the Centre’s decision to appoint an interlocutor — the government’s first major policy shift on Kashmir.

Singh named former Intelligence Bureau director Dineshwar Sharma as the Centre’s representative who would “initiate and carry forward a dialogue with the elected representatives, various organisations and concerned individuals in the State of Jammu and Kashmir”.

This announcement was made on the eve of the visit of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to India who visited New Delhi on October 24.

Quoting sources the report said that the diplomat met Social Welfare Minister Sajjad Lone at his official residence.

Reached for comment, Lone said he does not remember the meeting with Goldberg. “I do meet visiting diplomats. I don’t remember this particular meeting,’’ he said.

The report also said that Goldberg met Molvi Imran Raza Ansari, senior PDP leader and Minister for Information Technology, Technical Education and Youth Services & Sports, at his Rainawari residence.

The third minister Goldberg met was Chering Dorjay, BJP leader from Leh and Minister of Cooperatives and Ladakh Affairs.

“It was a courtesy call. I knew the previous ambassador. There was nothing serious,’’ Dorjay said, when questioned about the meeting.

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