By Ali Imran
WASHINGTON, Sept 27 : Recognizing Kashmir as “one of the most sensitive” issues in Pakistan-India peace dialogue, the United States has hailed the recent progress the two South Asian neighbors have made to pave the way for improved relations.
Assistant Secretary of State for Central and South Asia Robert Blake hoped for continued progress in the Islamabad-New Delhi peace process and noted that better trade and economic ties between Pakistan and India augur well for regional peace and development.
“Let me say how encouraged we are by recent steps taken by the governments of India and Pakistan to initiate closer trade and commercial ties,” the U.S. official said in an interaction hosted by the Foreign Press Center.
Blake spoke in the backdrop of recent peace parleys between Pakistani foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar and her Indian counterpart S M Krishna in Islamabad, where the two countries agreed to ease visa processing for citizens.
He remarked that increased economic linkages between India and Pakistan would “strengthen mutual understanding, create a natural foundation for a stronger bilateral relationship, yield dividends for the citizens of both countries, and open up the potential for wider trade in the region.”
Blake was also questioned about his views on Islamabad’s raising the Kashmir issue at the United Nations where President Asif Ali Zardari termed the lingering dispute as symbolizing the UN failure in resolving longstanding political disputes.
In response, the US official again welcomed the detente that Islamabad and New Delhi have been able to achieve and noted the two capitals may not discuss Kashmir first, calling it “one of the most sensitive issues on the agenda” between the two countries.
Blake’s remarks indicated that continued progress in the peace process would help the two countries address the contentious Kashmir dispute at a later stage.
“Well, let me just say on – with respect to Kashmir that – first of all, to go back to I said earlier in my remarks, which is that we welcome the progress that India and Pakistan have made in their bilateral relations, particularly on the trade front, where Foreign Minister Krishna announced during his visit with his Pakistani counterpart a new agreement on visas, but also their determination to continue to expand trade opportunities and to normalize trade with India – between India and Pakistan. So that’s a very good step,” said Blake, who spoke from New York and also took questions from Washington-based journalists via the Foreign Press Center’s video conferencing facility.
“On all of these issues, our position is that it is really up to India and Pakistan to determine the pace, the scope, and the character of their dialogue,” Blake added.
“And obviously Kashmir is one of the most sensitive issues on that agenda, so that’s probably not going to be the first thing that they talk about. But I think there is good progress in the bilateral dialogue, and we welcome that progress, and we – I’m sure that that will continue.”
Pakistan and India have fought two full-fledged wars over Kashmir and several conflicts. Many experts in the United States, Europe and Asia believe that resolution to the issue remains key to South Asian peace and that the dialogue process between the two countries would be severely tested when they approach the longstanding UN-recognized dispute.
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