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MILIBAND ACCUSED OF CREATING DIPLOMATIC STORM OVER KASHMIR COMMENTS

The Guardian - January 22, 2009 Foreign secretary's comments on disputed territory have angered government and overshadowed Mandelson visit, reports suggest Paul Owen, Maseeh Rahman in Delhi, and agencies David Miliband today faced claims that his recent visit to India caused a diplomatic storm that was overshadowing Peter Mandelson's current trade mission to the country. Indian newspapers claimed that a diplomatic row had erupted over an article the foreign secretary wrote for the Guardian, in which he claimed that resolving the status of Kashmir – the disputed territory over which India and Pakistan have fought three wars since 1947 – would help undermine support for terrorist groups in south Asia. India views unrest in Kashmir as an internal matter rather than an international dispute. The reports suggested Miliband's comments had angered the Indian government, and Mandelson's requests for meetings with Indian ministers had been turned down as a result. An editorial in the Hindu said that Miliband had made an "ill-conceived foray" into the issue and criticised his linking of Kashmir with November's terrorist attacks in Mumbai. "Such ham-handedness plays into the hands of those who are in denial and rationalise violent extremism by finding 'just' causes for it," the paper wrote. Today the office of the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, was forced to deny reports that Singh had written to Gordon Brown to complain about Miliband's comments. Reports in the Indian press claimed that Singh had written to Brown to express his "disappointment". But the prime minister's media adviser, Deepak Sandhu, denied this, telling the Press Association: "There is no such letter." A spokesman for the British Foreign Office confirmed this and Whitehall sources insisted the programme for Mandelson's visit had not been changed. Both India and Pakistan claim the whole of Jammu and Kashmir, but control only part of it. China also claims part. The Mumbai attacks have been blamed on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba group, which demands Muslim rule in the territory. In his Guardian article, Miliband wrote: "Although I understand the current difficulties, resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main calls to arms, and allow Pakistani authorities to focus more effectively on tackling the threat on their western borders." In response, Vishnu Prakash, a spokesman for New Delhi's Ministry of External Affairs, said: "Mr Miliband is entitled to his views, which are clearly his own and are evolving. We do not need unsolicited advice on the internal issues of India like Jammu and Kashmir." Today, India's foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, indicated that he had used diplomatic channels to convey to Miliband his disagreement with his views on Kashmir. Mukherjee told reporters in New Delhi: "When the foreign secretary of the UK visited us, he shared his perceptions about the situations and I equally told him and all the interlocutors that this is your perception, we do not share with it." He said that the disagreement was now regarded as a "closed chapter". William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, said: "Good relations with India are very important to Britain and must be handled with care and consistency. If David Miliband's comments caused a diplomatic storm in Delhi, then those relations will have been damaged by his visit." Lord Desai, the Labour peer, said Indians had overreacted. "But David should learn that Kashmir touches the rawest nerve here. The worst out of it is that Peter Mandelson's visit has not been as good as it should have been. He got less than what he was looking for." A Foreign Office spokeswoman said that the UK and India enjoyed "a very strong strategic partnership which covers a very broad agenda. We are confident that the common interests we share and our strong relationship will continue." She said that Mandelson, who is in India until Friday, "has had meetings with senior members of the [Indian] government and senior business leaders. These meetings have been warm and fruitful and demonstrate the strength of the bilateral relationship."





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