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US to steer clear of Kashmir issue
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

The United States remains supportive of efforts made by India and Pakistan to reduce tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals but, mindful of India’s sensitivities on the matter, has not offered to help resolve the Kashmir issue, a senior State Department official said on Friday.

Asked by this correspondent what kind of the role Washington saw for itself in easing tensions between India and Pakistan without taking up the dreaded K-word, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Richard Boucher, said: “They have not asked us to broker Kashmir, we have not suggested it.”

Fearing US mediation in the Kashmir issue, New Delhi had lobbied hard to keep India off the mandate of President Barack Obama’s special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard C. Holbrooke. Speaking to a small group of reporters on Friday, Boucher said Washington wants good relations with both India and Pakistan. “We want to do everything we can with each of these countries to develop solid relations that benefit the people of both places,” he said, adding, “We want to make sure that we are fighting terrorism together in the region and that each country is doing whatever they can and we are supporting all their efforts, whether it is working with the Indians on protecting India, or whether it is working with the Afghans or Pakistanis on ending the terrorist threat that comes out of their territory.”

Boucher noted that the US has always been “very supportive of efforts that they themselves have made with each other... and [is keen to] see if India and Pakistan together can get back to working to reduce tensions and to create a better situation.” He added: “As they go forward, we will support them.”

The India-Pakistan relationship, which hit a new low following the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, has started limping back to some semblance of normalcy following cooperation between both New Delhi and Islamabad in the post-attack investigation. Interestingly, it was the US pressure and evidence gathered by the FBI that produced this cooperation from Pakistan.

Pointing to India’s involvement in building the infrastructure and institutions in Afghanistan, Boucher said the US sees “a continuing role for India.” India has invested over a billion dollars in Afghanistan. While the US expects its allies to play a larger role in stabilising Afghanistan, Boucher acknowledged that India is a “special case.” He noted that India “doesn’t want to put boots on the ground and I think we respect that.”

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