Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington
The Obama administration wants Pakistan to move ahead with prosecuting those responsible for the Mumbai terrorist attacks, according to a US official.
Speaking to reporters on the eve of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's three-day visit to India, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake on Wednesday welcomed renewed interactions between New Delhi and Islamabad and said the US wanted to see "greater understanding and progress particularly on the issue of Pakistan moving forward with prosecution of those responsible for the Mumbai attacks”.
He noted reports in the Pakistani press that chargesheets will be filed in the case as early as next week, and described this as a "positive step forward."
Clinton will be arriving in India on Friday on a 3-day visit that takes her to Mumbai and New Delhi. Blake denied Clinton was trying to send a signal by not travelling to Pakistan. "This is a trip where we’re trying to focus on India and really highlight the new strategic partnership and, again, all the people-to-people ties. But that doesn’t mean that we attach any less importance to Pakistan and Afghanistan," he said. Clinton said on Wednesday she would be travelling to Pakistan in the fall.
Discussing the civilian nuclear deal, which has become the centrepiece of the US-India relationship, Blake reiterated Obama and Clinton's commitment to the agreement. He dispelled reports that the deal was off track. "I don’t think there should be any apprehensions about the future of the civil nuclear agreement," Blake said.
While in New Delhi, Clinton and Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna are expected to sign an end-use monitoring agreement that will commit India to allow inspections of defence technology purchased from the US. India is also expected to announce plans to set aside two nuclear sites where US companies can have exclusive rights to locate and sell reactors to India. "We think that that’s a major opportunity for American companies," Blake said, noting it would open up as much as $10 billion worth of new exports to India.
On Monday, Clinton and Krishna will announce elements of the new partnership - defence cooperation, counterterrorism, trade, agriculture, education, science and technology, and women’s empowerment. Blake said the US also thought there was scope for broader engagement on some of the big global challenges, including climate change and non-proliferation. But all three issues have been sticking points in the relationship. Clinton's visit is intended to broaden and strengthen the strategic partnership between the United States and India, and highlight the "extensive cooperation that is already taking place between the nongovernmental folks in... both India and the United States," Blake said. It will also underscore the importance of business people, scientists, academics and students in the relationship.
The US official addressed concerns raised by some in New Delhi at the Obama administration's delay in engaging India after what had been a close relationship under George W. Bush. "There’s a very simple answer to that - both sides wanted to wait until after the Indian elections that were finished in mid-May of this year," he said, adding, "We believe that the strong showing of the Congress party, Prime Minister Singh’s return to office, and President Obama’s very strong support for strengthening ties with India really opened the way for a new and invigorated partnership between the United States and India."
Clinton will also meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Opposition leader L.K. Advani.
Blake, meanwhile, played down the symbolism of Clinton's visit to Mumbai, saying the United States has expressed its condolences for the Mumbai attacks and counterterrorism cooperation had increased significantly since those attacks. "But there will be a much wider range of activities beyond simply any kind of commemoration of what happened there," he said.