U.S. careful on India-Pakistan

July 21, 2009 at 11:00 AM

NEW DELHI, July 21 (UPI) -- If Pakistan can claim to have succeeded in convincing India to drop its key objection to resume bilateral peace dialogue stalled since last November's Mumbai terror carnage, the United States has been careful not to take any credit for it at least publicly for fear of offending India.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on her maiden visit to India since taking up her post, made it clear there was no pressure from her government to restart the talks as a way to help Pakistan fight terrorism at home without having to worry about threats from India.

In her various remarks in India, she said any resumption of talks would purely be between the two countries, although her government would welcome such a move.

Clinton's India visit was timely as Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has come under intense criticism from opponents and critics at home that under U.S. pressure he gave away too much to his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani while agreeing to the resumption of the talks at their recent meeting in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt.

Speaking in Mumbai, where she arrived for the start of her visit, Clinton said both India and Pakistan are "sovereign nations" that had taken the "decision between them" at Sharm el-Sheik without the United States being "directly involved," the Times of India reported.

The criticism against Singh at home centers around language in the joint statement saying both Singh and Gilani recognized that "dialogue is the only way forward" and that action "on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process."

The critics contend that language went against India's principled stand that the Mumbai attacks were organized in Pakistan and that the dialogue process cannot restart unless Pakistan takes credible steps to bring the perpetrators to justice.

As criticism mounted that Singh had buckled under U.S. pressure, the prime minister explained in Parliament after returning from Egypt that there could be no productive talks with Pakistan unless its government brought the Mumbai attackers to justice.

Whether Singh's Parliament statement and Clinton's remarks helped clear the air in India, there was no such doubt in Pakistan.

Dawn, Pakistan's leading English daily, said India, in a "major retreat from its hard-line position on resumption of peace talks," had agreed to de-link the dialogue process from action against terrorism and hold talks "with Pakistan on all outstanding issues."

As to why India changed its position, Dawn said one apparent reason might have been that New Delhi did not want to be seen as being unreasonable and inflexible during the Clinton visit.

Speaking to reporters after his return, Gilani, praised Singh's "political sagacity" and "statesmanship," and did not express any concern about Singh's statement in the Indian Parliament, other reports said.

There is still no firm date or agenda set for the resumption of the talks. In any case, given the past history of India-Pakistan relations, which included three wars, there is no guarantee any agreement resulting from such talks would stick without endorsement from Pakistan's powerful military.

For her part, Clinton was careful to ensure nothing would come in the way of advancing her government's objective of further strengthening the strategic partnership with India, which she has been stressing in her recent speeches.

The secretary's visit began with her decision to stay at Mumbai's icon Taj Mahal Palace hotel, which was one of the targets of the terrorist carnage.

Media reports said Clinton's solemn gesture included paying tribute to the nearly 170 victims who died in the massacre and writing in the condolence book at the hotel, saying in part: "Americans share a solidarity with this city and nation. Both our people have experienced the senseless and searing effects of violent extremism."

In an interview with Times Now, Clinton said she would be concerned if there "is no trial and no justice for those who planned the attacks on Mumbai" on Nov. 11, 2008.

Asked if she would tell Pakistan to go after Lashkar-e-Toiba, the militant group India says was behind the Mumbai attacks, Clinton said the United States has been very clear in its dialogue with Pakistan that it is imperative it go after every terror group.

Saying she considers India "not only a regional power but a global power," Clinton said, "I think that cooperation that we are building with India on counter-terrorism is very good, to get India's help in our side and in what Pakistan is now doing is very welcome."

On Kashmir too, a festering problem between India and Pakistan, Clinton made it clear the U.S. policy is not to "be involved other than to support the process that Indian and Pakistan may decide to enter into."

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