WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama has ruled out any outside role in the Kashmir dispute but has emphasised the need for other nations to play a role in stabilising Pakistan.
In an interview with Indian journalist Lalit K. Jha, Mr Obama also advised India to liberalise economy, noting that New Delhi prohibited foreign investment in too many sectors.
His remarks riled the Indian opposition, which rejected the suggestion as ‘laughable’ and urged the Indian government not to accept his advice.
Mr Obama welcomed the Indo-Pakistan dialogue process and urged the two neighbours to work together to find a solution to a dispute that had already caused three wars between them.
“It is not the place of any nation, including the United States, to try to impose solutions from the outside,” said Mr Obama, apparently endorsing the Indian position that it would not accept any outside role in settling this issue.
“That said, nations must meet their responsibilities and all of us have a profound interest in a Pakistan that is stable, prosperous and democratic,” said the US president, leaving open the possibility of involving India in bringing stability to Pakistan.
Mr Jha, the only Indian journalist ever to have interviewed a US president twice, told Dawn that Mr Obama made it clear the best way forward for the two countries was to keep talking to each other.
Mr Obama told him that lessening of tensions between India and Pakistan would not only be good for South Asia but also for the rest of the world.
“President (Asif Ali) Zardari’s visit to India was encouraging. Increased trade and people-to-people contacts between Indians and Pakistanis can lead to greater prosperity and understanding on both sides,” said Mr Obama.
“Efforts in New Delhi and Islamabad to improve relations give hope for further progress, including a possible visit to Pakistan by Prime Minister (Manmohan) Singh,” he said.
Mr Obama, however, did not say if he planned to fulfil his promise to visit Pakistan.
Another cause of concern for Pakistan was Mr Obama’s warm welcome to India’s growing role in Afghanistan.
“India will be critical to Afghanistan’s future,” he said, noting that India was already playing a major role in helping Afghanistan.
India, he said, had made generous contributions to Afghanistan’s progress, helping to train Afghan police, promoting development and in improving the lives of ordinary Afghans.
India was the first nation to forge a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghanistan, he noted, adding that India’s civil service could be a model as Afghans strengthened their own governance and institutions.
India hosted an international investment conference on Afghanistan last month and Mr Obama said that by doing so, New Delhi had shown its readiness to champion Kabul’s economic development.
Mr Obama said the United States and its Nato allies had chalked out, at the Chicago summit earlier this year, a clear path for bringing the Afghan war to an end.
By mid-2013, Afghan forces would lead combat operations and coalition forces would have shifted from combat to a supporting role across the country, he said, hoping that this would allow a steady withdrawal of US and Nato troops from Afghanistan.
“By the end of 2014, the transition to Afghan lead for security will be complete so that Afghans can take responsibility for their own country,” said Mr Obama. “After 2014, Nato will continue to train, advise and assist and support Afghan forces as they grow stronger.”