No Change in US Hands Off Kashmir Policy - The New Indian Express

No Change in US Hands Off Kashmir Policy

Published: 04th December 2013 11:02 AM

Last Updated: 04th December 2013 11:02 AM

Affirming that there is no change in the long-held US policy on Kashmir, a senior Obama administration official has said it is for India-Pakistan to set the pace, scope, and nature of talks over it.

"There's not been any change in the long-held US policy that with respect to relations between India and Pakistan, and particularly with respect to issues regarding Kashmir," US assistant secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal told foreign reporters Tuesday.

"It is for India-Pakistan to set the pace, the scope, and really the nature of those conversations and that process," she said when asked by a Pakistani correspondent about what the US was doing to help the two countries resolve some of their longstanding disputes, including Kashmir.

The United States, Biswal said "supports any improvements in the overall relationship, and we have seen important overtures by both countries towards
dialogue."

The US, she said welcomed the fact that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif "had a meeting in New York last fall, and we welcome all dialogue and all improvements in that relationship."

"A good place to start is on the trade front," Biswal suggested, "because it's a win-win for both countries."

"I think cross-border trade right now between India and Pakistan is somewhere in the range of two and a half billion. But both sides have seen the potential for that to grow to 10 billion, easily," she said.

"And that requires both sides to really come together around these sets of issues. So anything that will encourage cross-border trade will benefit both countries and really will benefit the entire region and will unleash tremendous economic potential," Biswal said.

"So trade and energy are areas where we think that there is tremendous potential and we'd love to see more progress," she said.

In response to a question about Afghanistan post US drawdown next year, Biswal said: "What India, Pakistan, and all the countries in the region want more than anything is a stable and secure Afghanistan."

Noting that the US had a "very close dialogue in cooperation with India with respect to the transition in Afghanistan" she said: "India has played a very important role and continues to play a very important role."

It "has provided over $2 billion in economic investment, has provided incredible training and infrastructure," she noted. "And we see that as a positive role that will continue moving forward."

Asked about Pakistani fears of the aftermath of a "complete and rapid withdrawal of US and its interests from that region," Biswal said the US engagement to the region "is an enduring one."

"And we will continue to support the economic development and prosperity of this region. We're not going away; we're not going anywhere," she assured.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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