Just days ahead of the US-India Strategic Dialogue in Washington, the United States indicated that the onus is on Pakistan to remove obstacles in the way of talks between India and Pakistan.
During a briefing in Washington DC, Robert O Blake, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs in the US State Department, said, “One of the most important obstacles to expansion of those relations is the continuing infiltration from Pakistan by Punjab-based groups, such as Lashkar e-Tayyiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed and others.”
In this context, Blake said that “one of the first things that has to happen is for there to be visible progress in stopping this.” He added that the United States had consistently called for greater action on the part of Pakistan to stop the activities of anti-India groups.
He also emphasized the view within the Obama Administration that terrorist groups in Pakistan were “operating together as a syndicate.”
Blake also did not believe that Kashmir would immediately figure on the agenda once discussions between India and Pakistan resumed. The “immediate” issue was that of counterterrorism, and once they have developed a degree of confidence, they might then be able to take up some of these “more sensitive territorial issues.”
There has been a sense within the Obama Administration that Pakistan’s inaction on countering India-focused terrorist groups had impeded normalisation of relations with India, though that criticism has been muted in public because elements in Washington do not want to rile the Pakistan establishment.
The US-India Strategic Dialogue will comprise several heads with counterterrorism figuring prominently when External Affairs Minister SM Krishna meets US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday. The focus will also be on countries in India’s neighbourhood. Blake mentioned “Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East, probably China."
Also likely to figure in the talks will be Iran, as Blake pointed out, “This is a very important issue for both of our countries. I think the United States and India both share a concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and both of us are opposed to any kind of nuclear arms for Iran.”
But there are tricky issues to be navigated. Among them is access to Pakistani-American David Coleman Headley, considered by India to be a major figure behind the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Blake refused to put a timeframe for Indian investigators to question him.
Blake also said the US was “not frustrated” over the pace at which liability legislation, a key element to completing the India-US civilian nuclear deal, was churning through the system in India. As he explained, “It has some political resonance in India because of the Bhopal disaster. So people are – obviously look at this very closely and they should. It deserves that kind of scrutiny.”