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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 949

Kashmir issue: US rejects Pakistan plea for mediation

From R. Vasudevan—Reporting from New Delhi
New Delhi, 24 March (Asiantribune.com) :

The opening of high-level talks between Pakistan and the United States in Washington on Wednesday was marked by Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi seeking a "constructive" US role on Kashmir and "non-discriminatory" access to energy, an apparent reference to nuclear cooperation that Pakistan is seeking with U.S. on the lines of the India-U.S. nuclear deal.

However the US had earlier responded to the Pakistan suggestion saying, it was for India and Pakistan to resolve all their disputes bilaterally and the Obama Administration did not see a role for itself in it, unless both the countries want it. India has rejected time and again any proposal for third party mediation on the vexed Kashmir problem.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opened the crucial talks with Pakistan, pledging that a "new day" had begun in the often fractious ties between the two nations. Pointing to Pakistan's growing action against Islamic extremism, Clinton pledged full support, saying, "Its struggles are our struggles." But she also acknowledged that the two nations "have had our misunderstandings and disagreements in the past."

"There are sure to be more disagreements in the future, as there are between any friends or, frankly, any family members," she said. "But this is a new day. For the past year, the Obama administration has shown in our words and deeds a different approach and attitude toward Pakistan."

Ahead of the strategic Washington dialogue, the Obama administration on Wednesday shot down Islamabad's plea to help it resume peace talks with India and mediate on key disputes with New Delhi on issues including Kashmir. Special US Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke told journalists at a joint press conference with the Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir in Washington that US would not like to involve itself in what it sees as a bilateral issue.

Responding to questions from the Pakistani media on this issue, Holbrooke, however, said the US encouraged both India and Pakistan to talk to each other on all the issues. He said talking on Kashmir is not in his mandate. Holbrooke said the first ever Cabinet level Strategic Dialogue between the two countries would be an important milestone in building relationship US-Pak between.

At another reception at the Pakistani Embassy on the occasion of Pakistan National Day, visiting Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that he wanted to build a partnership with the US based on mutual trust, confidence and shared objectives. "We have made progress in Pakistan and the world is acknowledging our sacrifices. We are ready to deliver, we are ready to move, let's build a partnership which is lasting," Qureshi said.

The reception was attended by top officials of the Obama Administration including National Security Adviser General (retired) James Jones, lawmakers and US ambassador in Islamabad Anne Paterson. Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar, Chief of the Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Finance Adviser Abdul Hafeez Shaikh also attended the reception.

Earlier, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P J Crowley said the Obama Administration has spent a lot of time trying to convince all countries in the region that ultimately improved relations with the United States and with others in the region is in everyone's interest.

"We continue to make that clear. Assistant Secretary (Robert) Blake has been in the region and I think is trying to help various countries understand the context within which these expanded dialogues with all of the countries continue and are in everyone's interest," Crowley said.

India keeping a close watch for any US policy shift

New Delhi is closely monitoring the discussions in Washington to any signals of a significant tilt in US policy in the region.

The US on Tuesday said it finds "potential for conflict" between India and Pakistan over water-sharing and said it would engage the subject in its dialogue with the two South Asian neighbours so as to prevent any tension in the region. "We want to help countries avoid conflict over water. The potential for conflict over it exists not only in Pakistan and in India, but in other places as well," said Maria Otero, the US Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs.

"The issue is the recognition of water as a potential source of conflict in our elevated effort to address it with greater priority than we have in the past," she said in her interaction with the State Department Press Corps on the occasion of World Water Day.

"But we're not at this point saying that the US is now going to change its policy. I think we need to work on this some and find ways to make sure that, especially in the Pakistan-Indian case, we can help move that situation forward to an improved situation," Otero said.

Pakistan shopping list

According to Wall Street Journal, Pakistan has submitted a 56-page document to the Obama Administration seeking a civil nuclear deal, drone technology and military hardware to bring itself on par with India.

In the document, which is believed to have been submitted to the US before the arrival of the high-power Pakistani delegation in Washington on Saturday last, Islamabad also seeks American help in revival of the Indo-Pak dialogue stalled since the Mumbai attacks and resolving its chronic water and power shortages.

The Pakistani delegation for the dialogue includes army chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and ISI's Lt Gen Shuja Pasha. It is headed by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. The Pakistani document outlines a range of aid Islamabad is seeking from the US.

The daily said Pakistan's fears of being outflanked by India, which has forged close ties with the Afghan government, are reflected in the document's indirect language about regional security issues. "The document raises concerns about India's effort to modernise its military, in part through buying US equipment and weapons," it said.

"Pakistan also wants a civilian nuclear energy cooperation deal with the US, and a role in any future peace talks between the Western-backed Afghan government and the Taliban," it reported. Post 9/11 attacks in the US, Pakistan has received more than USD 17.5 billion in American aid. Last year, the Congress passed a legislation to give USD 7.5 billion in civilian aid to Pakistan in five years.

- Asian Tribune -

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