The US does not intend to "meddle" in the Kashmir issue, but will support any effort by India and Pakistan to reduce their tensions, a key aide to President Barack Obama says while pressing Islamabad to take the "first step" to bring to justice the Mumbai attack masterminds.
Allaying apprehensions in some quarters in India that US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke's mandate may also include Kashmir, Bruce Riedel, who co-chaired the inter-agency committee which formulated the Af-Pak policy, said: "I do not think, the Obama Administration intends to meddle in Kashmir."
Riedel, a former CIA official, said it is in the interest of the US to see tension between India and Pakistan be reduced and diminished and see a resumption of the bilateral composite dialogue and a back channel between India and Pakistan that produced some significant result between 2006 and May 2007.
"But at the end of the day it is fundamentally up to the Indians and Pakistanis to make those decisions, and change those policies that way. United States can be a supporter and it should be, but it is up to Indians and Pakistanis to find a way to reduce tensions between them," Riedel told PTI in Washington.
"The critical first step in that regard that is for Pakistan to take steps to bring to justice the masterminds who murdered a 160 people in Mumbai last November. That is the first step, without that it would be very very difficult to see a reduction in tension between Islamabad and New Delhi," he said.
"I can't see how any Indian government could or should simply forget what happened last November in Mumbai," Riedel said, insisting that those responsible for that massacre have to be brought to justice.
"The Pakistani Government has been asking for evidence. I think, India has provided the evidence. Now it is time to take some action against Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jamaat-ud-Dawa and those who perpetrated this terrorist outrage," he said.
Commenting on bilateral ties, Riedel noted that there was a bipartisan consensus in the US that India would be one of the most important partners and friends to the United States in the 21st century.
"On every issue that matters to America, from international terrorism to global warming, to arms control, the future of democracy; India is a critical player and the US and India have fundamentally similar interests and values.
"And I think, across the political spectrum in the United States there is a recognition (about) that. This is an unusual area of consensus in American politics. I expect the Obama Administration to continue what the Clinton and Bush Administrations began, which is strengthening US-Indian relations," he said.
When asked whether the fizz in Indo-US ties that was witnessed during the previous Bush era was missing after Barack Obama became US President this year, Riedel replied in the negative.
Riedel said: "The Obama Administration has rightly given India a chance to conduct its own political process. India has been in a process of a very important election and has come out with a very important result – the return of the Congress Government.
"By definition during that electoral period, US-Indian bilateral relations were on the back-burner, while India put its own political house in order."
With the Congress-led UPA back in power, Riedel said he expected bilateral diplomatic ties to regain the tempo and take a "significant uptick."
He also noted that Washington has rightly focused on the war in Afghanistan, and the deteriorating situation in Pakistan. At the same time, he made it clear that the Obama Administration intends to consult closely with New Delhi at every stage it moves forward on the new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy.
"I think, that makes perfect sense as the Government in New Delhi very much wants those consultations," he said.
Describing India as a "key player" in Afghanistan, Riedel noted that New Delhi has provided over $1 billion as aid to the Afghan government.