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Don’t roll back ties with Pakistan: Boucher
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

Even as India threatens to roll back ties with Pakistan, a US official has cautioned against such a move saying it is in both nations’ interests to continue moving ahead in the relationship.

Assistant secretary of state for south and central Asian affairs Richard Boucher said in an interview with this correspondent: “India has to decide what its outlook is on ties with Pakistan.”

“Our view is that there has been tremendous progress in many of the government and economic relationships with Pakistan. It is in both sides’ interests to continue that,” he said, adding, “I think it is important for both sides, obviously you cannot neglect the issue of terrorism, but if we can establish cooperation against terrorism we can add to the building of ties rather than have to subtract from it.”

Even as India-Pakistan ties have been pushed to breaking point in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush’s administration believes both sides have managed tensions successfully.

State department spokesman Sean McCormack said on Wednesday the U.S. has been keeping a close eye on the situation. He said U.S. officials have been “talking to both sides, the Pakistan side and the Indian side about managing the tensions in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Mumbai.”

“To this point, both sides have managed to do that successfully, some of these troop movements notwithstanding, both on the Indian side as well as the Pakistani side,” McCormack said.

“Thus far, each side has managed the aftermath of Mumbai in such a way that the tensions haven’t escalated in a way that has been unhelpful to maintaining peace and stability,” he added.

The official said the US would like to see “more the exchange of information about the Mumbai attacks so that you can get to the bottom of exactly who was responsible, see the entire plot, and hold all responsible for their actions, and make sure that in doing so you prevent any further plots from getting to the point of execution.”

Meanwhile, Boucher denied the Mumbai attacks had reintroduced a hyphenation in the U.S. policy for India and Pakistan. “I think first of all what we found is that the U.S. and India have an enormous variety of shared interests… One of those common interests is to end terrorism in the region and Mumbai, for the both of us, really makes it very clear how much of a shared interest we have in stopping terrorism,” he said.

Boucher said the dismissal of Pakistani National Security Adviser Mahmud Ali Durrani was an “internal matter for the Pakistani government.” Durrani was fired after he confirmed reports that the gunman captured alive after the Mumbai attacks is a Pakistani national.

Boucher, who recently wrapped up a visit to India and Pakistan, said the sense he got from talking to Pakistanis in politics, civil society and the military is that “they understand that terrorists are a threat to Pakistan. They know they need to find a way to eliminate that threat from Pakistani soil.” He described US-Pakistan ties as a “very positive relationship.”

“We are working with a government that is committed to democracy, committed to an open economy and is committed to stabilizing Pakistan by eliminating the terrorist groups,” he said. He admitted not all the policies in those areas have been effective.

“They have gone through simultaneous crises on security, economics and finishing the democracy transition. Our commitment to be there and work with them on these things is quite clear,” Boucher said.

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