WASHINGTON, Nov 2: The United States has said that the incursions in Kashmir have increased recently, although not to the level that they had been before Pakistan pledged to stop militants from crossing the Line of Control.

At a regular briefing in Washington on Friday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher urged India and Pakistan to ease tensions in Kashmir and work together to improve bilateral relations.

He said that incursions in Kashmir “did go down considerably” after President Pervez Musharraf had pledged to stop all infiltrations into the Indian-held Kashmir. “They went back somewhat but not to the level that they had been prior to the commitments made by the Pakistani government,” he added.

Mr Boucher said that the US would continue to work with Pakistan to ensure that President Musharraf’s pledge was upheld.

The State Department strongly defended President Musharraf “as the man Washington wants to work with to reduce tensions” in the region.

“When infiltration goes down, the US State Department credits Musharraf. Now infiltration has gone up and we don’t hear anybody saying that Musharraf is accountable,” asked an Indian journalist.

“I think you hear us saying that the commitments he made are very important and that we continue to work with him to make sure that they are implemented in fact, as well as in principle,” responded Mr Boucher.

He also rejected the claim by the same journalist that the US was guilty of “double standard” by engaging in the largest-ever military exercise with India last week while continuing to supply weapons to Pakistan at the same time.

“We have very important relationships with India and with Pakistan. These are different relationships. These are based on the circumstances and the opportunities that we have with each of the countries,” Mr Boucher elaborated.

“It’s not a zero sum game. It’s not a win-lose proposition. We think that strong relationships with the United States could be the basis for progress in the region, easing of tensions in the region, and we’re willing to use our relationships to try to accomplish that for the sake of both countries,” he added.

Mr Boucher acknowledged that US officials, both from Washington and the embassy in New Delhi, had stayed engaged with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference in Kashmir.

He endorsed the elections held in Kashmir in September, saying that Washington had always believed that “the views of all the Kashmiris are best reflected through an open election in which everybody can participate. We welcome the election that took place. We welcome the outcome as a reflection of the desires of the Kashmiri people”.

He said the United States looked to “both sides to continue to take steps to ease tension and to look to some kind of dialogue on all the issues that could help resolve some of the tensions, including the issues over Kashmir.”

In reply to a question, he said Benazir Bhutto had visited the State Department on Oct 28 and met the Assistant Secretary of South Asian Affairs, Christina Rocca. “They discussed developments in Pakistan and in the region more generally,” he said, adding: “we’ve had regular meetings with Pakistani opposition leaders, including (Benazir) Bhutto, in order to stay in contact with all the significant political leaders of this country. The Pakistan People’s Party, as you know, won the second largest number of seats in the recent National Assembly elections.”

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