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India-Pakistan trade ties encouraging: US

November 12, 2011

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Robert O. Blake, the assistant secretary of state for southern and central Asian affairs.—Reuters photo

ADDU, Maldives: Recent measures to normalise trade between India and Pakistan are encouraging signs toward the realisation of a ''new silk road'' connecting south and central Asia, a US official said Friday.

Robert O. Blake, the assistant secretary of state for southern and central Asian affairs, also said that the concept of making Afghanistan a hub of economic activity will provide an ''alternative to insecurity and extremism.''

Blake was speaking as an observer at the conclusion of a South Asian summit which India, Pakistan and Afghanistan are attending.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton proposed the idea in India earlier this year, saying it would help Afghanistan to recover from the effects of war without becoming a permanent recipient of foreign aid.

''We understand the changes will not take place overnight but a number of recent developments across South Asia offer significant hope,'' Blake said.

''The United States is very encouraged by the positive recent steps taken by the governments of India and Pakistan to initiate close trade and economic ties. Closer trade will create a natural foundation to a stronger bilateral relations,'' he added.

In the latest positive sign, Pakistan last week announced a normalisation in trade ties with India.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani met in this India Ocean archipelago on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit, amid signs of warming relations between the two neighbours.

Singh said after the meeting it was time to open a new chapter in their relations.

During his address Thursday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai hailed the positive gestures between India and Pakistan saying ''only a stable Afghanistan surrounded by a stable and cooperative region can serve as the land bridge at the heart of Asia.''

The Saarc —which also includes Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives —concluded Friday with the declaration to ''root out terrorism taking into account its links with illegal trafficking in narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and small arms.''

It also discussed ways to combat maritime piracy in the Indian Ocean and Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed who is the head of Saarc said that he hoped that South Asian countries would work out a mechanism on combating piracy by mid next year.

''The most difficult issue is not stopping them but what to do (with them) after you capture them or after they drift to your shores,'' Nasheed said.

''More often there is no recognisable crime from them and they don't have any (arms and) ammunition by the time they reach Maldives. We can only treat such persons as refugees,'' Nasheed said adding that there were 37 such persons in the Maldives at present.