America’s influential Republican senator John McCain who lost to Barack Hussain Obama in the 2008 presidential elections visited Srinagar last week. He was in Pakistan and flew to Leh in a special US plane and then to Srinagar for an overnight sojourn. McCain who earlier headed the senate committee on India affairs is now the Vice Chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee.
Soon after landing, he had nearly two hour long meeting with governor N N Vohra. Lt Gen K T Parnaik, Northern Army Commander, and Lt Gen S A Hasnain, Corps Commander, XV Corps were also present in the luncheon meeting with McCain at Raj Bhawan.
Later, he met with chief minister Omar Abdullah. Foreign Policy Advisors Christian Brose and Vance Serchuk, US Military Escort Lieutenant Lawrence Heyworth and US Delhi’s mission’s First Secretary (Political) Paul Narian accompanied him to the meeting. This time, official spokesman said, “matters relating to the socio-economic development and protection of environment” were discussed.
Omar posted on twitter: “We discussed the region in the light of Osama’s killing and India-Pakistan and Kashmir.” Perhaps knowing what happened to his grand-pa when he met a defeated presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson in 1953, Omar made sure not to have a one-on-one meeting.
In Pakistan, the senator had meetings with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani and COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani. A former US Air Force pilot, who was once taken prisoner of war, is a strong voice for continued stay of US troops in Afghanistan.
US envoys and top ranking diplomats have regularly visited the state since the start of an insurgency in 1989. McCain, who represents Arizona in the US Senate, is the highest ranking US politician to visit Kashmir and yet no official word on the purpose of his visit. The then US Ambassador Timothy Roemer visited the Valley on March 17 this year.
McCain went sight-seeing to the Mughal gardens. He speared some time to visit the G M Butt’s Clermont Houseboats in Nigeen. But by skipping separatists, McCain reaffirmed the shift in the US policy on Kashmir. Last time US ambassador Roemer made Vijay Dhar’s DPS school his venue to interact and send out a message (McCain missed it). Dhar has lately been meeting many officials from the US embassy in New Delhi.
Finally McCain opened up in Delhi. He told reporters that India is a vital strategic partner of US and can play a larger role in South Asia to maintain peace and security which is the prime necessity in the region. He said he was ‘encouraged’ to see peace and security returning to J&K, but added that there will be ‘continued tensions’ as long as the Kashmir issue is important for India and Pakistan. He, however, said Kashmir was India’s internal affair.