WASHINGTON: The United States has and will always encourage India and Pakistan to work for a more stable relationship, says a senior US official as Secretary of State Antony Blinken leaves for his first visit to India and other destinations in South Asia and the Middle East.
Briefing journalists on the July 26-29 visit, Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Dean Thompson said Mr Blinken would also discuss with his Indian partners various options for pursuing a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan.
Mr Blinken is expected to visit Kabul as well, although the schedule of such visits to the Afghan capital are not announced for security reasons.
The top US diplomat is reaching New Delhi on July 28 for meetings with External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss a wide range of issues, including India’s role in Afghanistan and its relations with Pakistan.
Asked to what extent would the current relationship between India and Pakistan figure in Secretary Blinken’s talks in New Delhi, Mr Thompson said: “We strongly believe that India and Pakistan’s issues are ones for them to work out between themselves” but he acknowledged that Washington would continue to encourage better ties between South Asia’s two nuclear-armed neighbours.
“We are pleased to see that the ceasefire that went into place earlier this year has remained intact, and we certainly always encourage them to continue their efforts to find ways to build a more stable relationship going forward,” he said.
In February 2021, Pakistan and India reaffirmed their commitment to the 2003 ceasefire agreement along the Line of Control, agreeing to resolve the “key problems” that threaten peace and stability. The United States is believed to have played a key, behind-the-scenes role in making this arrangement.
“We expect that all the countries in the region have a shared interest in a stable and secure Afghanistan going forward,” said Mr Thompson when asked what role Washington wanted India to play in Afghanistan.
“We will certainly be… talking to our Indian partners about how we can work together to realise that goal, to find ways to bring the parties together, and continue to pursue a negotiated settlement to end the longstanding war,” he added.
Although Secretary Blinken is unlikely to visit Islamabad soon, the Biden administration has invited two senior Pakistani officials — National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf and Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence Lt Gen Faiz Hameed — to Washington next week for talks with their American counterparts.
Diplomatic observers in Washington see the invitation as a recognition of the key role the US expects Pakistan to play in ensuring a peaceful transfer of power in Afghanistan.
At a recent briefing in Washington, the US State Department’s spokesperson Ned Price also recognised this role when he said: “We understand the crucial role that Pakistan has the potential to play in this regard.”
This would be the second meeting between Mr Yusuf and his American counterpart Jake Sullivan, who first met in Geneva in March this year.
Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2021