US stress stakes in improving Pakistan-India ties

A top American official for South Asia, underscoring Washington’s stakes in Pakistan-India detente, has said the United States can offer ideas towards improvement in ties between its two key friends in the region.

Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, said Washington has a very significant multi-dimensional relationship with India but Pakistan is also “equally important.”

“My piece of this is to help on the India-Pakistan side where we have a great interest in promoting better ties between our two friends,” Blake told WRVO Radio during a visit to upstate New York.

“We’ve always said that it’s important for them to determine the pace and the scope and the character of how they will improve their relations, but again, we can always offer ideas,” he added, without elaborating on peace ideas.

Blake’s comments came as Pakistani and Indian foreign secretaries prepared to meet on the margins of a SAARC moot in Thimphu, Bhutan from February 6-7.

The meeting is expected to explore ways to revive the Pakistan-India peace process that broke down in the aftermath of 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Islamabad wants talks on all outstanding issues including Kashmir, the cause of several wars and conflicts between the two countries.

The two countries have reportedly exchanged some proposals in the run-up to the Bhutan meeting.

In the interview, the U.S. official remarked that encouraging better ties between neighbouring Pakistan and India has become particularly important in the post-9/11 world and referred to the escalation of tensions between the two regional powers in the wake of November 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Were such an incident to take place again, he feared, the subsequent situation would be “very damaging” to U.S. interests.

Blake explained his point by highlighting Pakistan’s vital anti-terror role along the Afghan border and said any movement of its troops back to the eastern border with India would be a setback counterterrorism effort.

“The Pakistanis have been very good about redeploying approximately 140,000 troops from their Indian border to the Afghan border where these sanctuaries are, where a lot of the groups that are attacking our troops in Afghanistan are based. So it’s very important that they maintain that focus and that they, if anything, increase the number of troops going into that area.

Were there to be another attack like that, of course they’d have to redeploy many troops back to the Indian border, and that would certainly not be in our interest.” On the United States’ having close relations with both Islamabad and New Delhi, he felt a de-hyphenation of the two relationships occuring yet found them both equally important.

“Intrestingly I think we’ve de-hyphenated our relations with India from our relations with Pakistan because it is such an important relationship and has so many different aspects to it.

“But Pakistan, of course, is equally important and arguably our most important foreign policy priority right now, perhaps with the exception of Afghanistan. It’s our largest aid recipient, it’s a country that has a great many challenges but has also done a lot particularly on the counter-terrorism front.”

Continuing, the official noted that President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other officials in the administration are “devoting an enormous amount of attention to developing our strategic dialogue with the Pakistanis, and have made a lot of progress. But again, there are many many challenges there.”