Cornered in Mumbai college, Obama cautious on Pakistan

  • Kiran Wadhwa, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Nov 08, 2010 01:51 IST

On Sunday, a 20-year-old student cornered US President Barack Obama into addressing the Pakistan issue, which he kept away from on the first day of his visit to India.

At the Gothic quadrangle of St Xavier's College, Afsheen Irani, from Mumbai's HR College of Commerce, without mincing words asked, "Why is Pakistan so important an ally that so far America has never called it a terrorist state?"

The usually articulate president paused to gather the right words. "Well… umm…that is a good question. I must say I was expecting it," he began.

Obama said that the US would not impose India-Pakistan ties.

"I hope over time trust will develop, dialogue will begin and India and Pakistan can live in peace and prosper. The US can be a partner, friend, but cannot impose this process. India and Pakistan have to arrive at their own understanding," he said.

Obama's caution reflected his constrains arising out of Pakistan being a key partner in getting out of the war he has inherited in Afghanistan.

Not many in the government would have expected him to publicly chide Islamabad, but they certainly would like to hear Obama on the issue of terrorism emanating from Pakistan in closed-door talks on Monday.

While terrorism and Pakistan remained a cautious subject for Obama, what he said on India-Pakistan ties partly echoed Delhi's position that a prosperous Pakistan is in India's interest.

Obama's approach on addressing less contentious issues first in the Indo-Pak dialogue is also something India wants.

The US president's position was close to India's on this - that a stable and prosperous Pakistan is in the interest of India and the economic well-being of the region. But Obama chose not to make Pakistan addressing stopping terrorism directed against India a pre-condition for good ties.

"Within Pakistan there are some extremist elements… and the Pakistan government is aware of it," he added.

"We have been engaging aggressively with the Pakistan government to communicate that we want nothing more than a stable, prosperous and peaceful Pakistan and we will work with the government to eradicate this extremism. The Pakistan government understands this. More Pakistanis have been killed by terrorists inside Pakistan."

He added that progress on the issue had not been as rapid as he would like, but the country had its 'difficulties'.

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