India has high degree of interest in Afghanistan, Pakistan: US

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : The US has acknowledged that India as a “great regional power” has a very high degree of interest in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Washington is now pushing Islamabad to move more troops from the Indian border to the “epicentre of terrorism in western Pakistan”.

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“These are the men who killed (former Pakistan premier) Benazir (Bhutto), who did Mumbai, who attacked the cricket team in Lahore, who attacked the United States. The epicentre of this area is in western Pakistan,” a top US official told the Senate Foreign Relations committee Tuesday.

“Pakistani military has to take back the west and that’s where we are today as we hold this important hearing,” the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke said.

However, he declined to comment on what the US can do to urge India to ease its tensions with Pakistan to help Pakistani military give up its ‘obsession’ with India.

“I would rather just simply restrict myself to saying that my job is Afghanistan and Pakistan,” he said as his comments might be misunderstood “in the final days and hours of an election in India where 700 million people are voting”.

But “at all steps in the process, we keep the Indians fully informed. They are not only an interested party, they are arguably the interested party,” he said, “although many other countries, including most notably China and Iran have borders with Afghanistan and have also interests.”

However, “India’s interests are very high – India is the great regional power and I have great personal respect and affection for India”, he said.

Holbrooke said he had already met the new Indian ambassador to the US Meera Shankar and the US will keep India fully informed.

He was responding to Democrat Senator Robert Casey’s question about what steps India could take “to help lower the temperature or create an environment where Pakistan can ease up a little bit”.

“I think that most Americans can understand or appreciate some of that obsession (with India),” Casey said. “Every country has its focus – we had a threat over many generations posed by the Soviet Union. (So), We understand that.”

But “it’s becoming an increasingly difficult problem to solve because if the Pakistani government and their military forces are focussed only or largely on India, it’s going to be very difficult to make it work militarily,” he said.