Without uttering the "K" word, a senior US diplomat has debunked suggestions that Washington should help India and Pakistan resolve the Kashmir issue as part of a regional approach to end the Afghan war.
"Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India... share a common strategic space," Richard Holbrooke, US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told reporters on Tuesday.
"And in order to understand America's policy and America's policy dilemma, one has to understand that both India and Pakistan have legitimate security interests in the region."
"And I'm not talking about that certain area between them which I'm not going to mention by name...because I am not going to get involved in that," he said, carefully avoiding a reference to Kashmir so as not to step on India's toes.
"And people who have advocated that are making a proposal which I believe runs counter to stability in Afghanistan. Afghanistan must be dealt with on its merits," said Holbrooke, who has taken pains to stress time and again that India or Kashmir are not part of his portfolio.
Stressing that Pakistan and India have a "complicated historic relationship" going back to partition in 1947 and before 1947 "which people must respect", he said: "What happened then affects us today. But I need to stress that both countries have legitimate security interests (in Afghanistan)."
But as President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other US officials "have said repeatedly, there are many countries that have legitimate security interests in what happens in Afghanistan".
Asked if the issue of handing over terrorists involved in 26/11 Mumbai attacks and other terrorist attacks had come up in his talks with India and Pakistan, Holbrooke said: "Well, of course both sides raise issues like that, but it will not serve any purpose for me to make public confidential discussions."
"Our relations with both countries are good. We are improving relations with both countries," he said, noting: "Both in New Delhi and in Islamabad, people come up to us and say, oh, you're pro-the other country, you're favouring one country over another."
"That's not true. We are focussed on the issues themselves and on generally good relations, and we seek to do everything we can to help Pakistan economically, which is, I think - which is my highest priority," Holbrooke said. "And we work closely with India on a whole range of issues."
Asked if Indians in Afghanistan could feel safe after the terror attack in Kabul last week that killed 16 people, including six Indians, Holbrooke said: "First of all, in regard to this attack, I don't accept the fact that this was an attack on an Indian facility like the embassy.
"They were foreigners, non-Indian foreigners (were also) hurt. It was a soft target. And let's not jump to conclusions," he said. "I understand why everyone in Pakistan and everyone in India always focuses on the other. But please, let' s not draw a conclusion for which there's no proof."