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WASHINGTON, Nov 2: The United States should try to resolve the Kashmir dispute, says US presidential front-runner Barack Obama while backing American efforts to promote a better understanding between India and Pakistan.

“We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focussed not on India, but on the situation

with those militants,” said Mr Obama in an interview to MSNBC.

After the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration adopted a new approach towards South Asia, urging Pakistan to review its traditional defence strategy that regards India as the main threat to its interests in the region.

Instead, the Americans want Pakistan to refocus its attention on fighting the militants operating along the Afghan border.

Although initiated by the outgoing Republican administration, Senator Obama, a Democrat, also backs this policy.

“We also have to make the case that the biggest threat to Pakistan now is not India which has been the historical enemy,” he said. “It is actually militants within their borders,” said the senator in a separate interview with CNN.

In another interview on Sept 25, Mr Obama had said that if elected president, he would “continue support of ongoing Indian Pakistani efforts to resolve Kashmir problem … to address the political roots of the arms race between India and Pakistan.”

The statements won him an immediate praise from the Kashmiri American Centre whose Executive Director Ghulam Nabi Fai urged India to listen to the international community and resolve the 62-year-old dispute.

The Indian-American community, however, reacted angrily, urging Mr Obama to focus on domestic issues.

But the senator’s statements reflect the fear that the dispute over Kashmir would encourage militancy in South Asia and would prevent Pakistan from focusing its attention on fighting terrorists.

The Americans also feel that any militancy involving Muslims ultimately attracts anti-American elements that use it to promote their own agenda, as Al Qaeda did in Afghanistan.

In his interview to MSNBC, Mr Obama also noted that the militancy in Afghanistan cannot be defeated without Pakistan’s help. The US has already deployed 26,000 troops and plans to send thousands more.

“The most important thing we’re going to have to do with respect to Afghanistan is actually deal with Pakistan. And we’ve got work with the newly elected government there in a coherent way that says terrorism is now a threat to you. Extremism is a threat to you.”

Besides encouraging Pakistan to fight terrorists, the US presidential hopeful also stressed the need to support the new democratic setup in the country.

“And, we’ve got to say to the Pakistani people, we’re not just going to fund a dictator in order for us to feel comfortable with who we’re dealing with,” he said. “We’re going to respect democracy. But, we do have expectations in terms of being a partner in its terrorism.”

Senator Obama also acknowledged that the Afghan government, and not Pakistan, was responsible for most of the problems the country was facing.

“We have a combination of a government that is not seen as fully legitimate all throughout Afghanistan. It’s not particularly capable in terms of delivering services right now. You’ve got a very powerful narco-terrorism or intersection of narco-trafficking with terrorism.”

The terrain also made it difficult for anti-terrorism forces to move out the Taliban and Al Qaeda from the area, he added.

“And then you’ve got Pakistan, and a border that is porous and very difficult. So, it’s not going to be easy, but here’s what I know.”

Senator Obama said that if elected, he will pursue a policy that would not allow Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda to establish safe havens to plot to kill Americans and train troops. “There’s no dispute that that’s taking place right now.”

“And so, we’ve got to make Afghanistan stable enough and focused enough on controlling its own borders, that we’re not seeing the Taliban and Al Qaeda return,” he said.

“In the meantime, I think the most important thing that we’re going to have to do in addition to adding more troops, providing alternatives to farmers for the poppy trade is making sure that services are actually being delivered to the Afghan people.”

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