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Washington, March 3 (IANS) 

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Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India "are vastly different in culture, socio-economic
standing, and political development, but they share a common strategic space,"
Richard Holbrooke, US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said
on Tuesday.

"And in order to understand America's policy and America's policy dilemma, one
has to understand that both India and Pakistan have legitimate security interests in
the region," he said briefing reporters on his trip to the region.

"India has a legitimate interest even though they don't have a common border (with Afghanistan),"
Holbrooke said suggesting a dialogue between the two South Asian neighbours. "And if one country says
the other has no interest, then it's hard to have a dialogue."

"That's why President(Barack)Obama has said we encourage any sort of dialogue between the two
countries, and Afghanistan is not the core of the issue, but it is a part of the issue," he said.

Among other very critical issues "water is a huge issue...and increasingly on our trips, people in both
countries talk about water - and overall security relationships," Holbrooke said. "Other issues have arisen
continually."

Noting that the US has "good relations with both India and Pakistan," the envoy said: "It is our view that it
is in our national interest to improve relations with both countries - not at the expense of the other."

On the contrary, "by improving relations in both countries, we can move forward a general search for
peace and stability in the region," Holbrooke said noting that this policy really began in 2000 when
President Bill Clinton went to both countries, the first president to visit either country in 22 years since
Jimmy Carter had gone in 1978.
"And since then, President (George) Bush has done the same thing. And we will - this is the overriding
approach we have to the issue. And that's our starting point for the strategic overview of the region," he
said.

Later State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley also reaffirmed that US has "encouraged both India
and Pakistan to continue their dialogue."

"They are neighbours. As Richard just said, share the same strategic space. So we will continue to talk to
both countries and encourage the very kind of dialogue we saw in recent days," he said referring to the
recent foreign secretary level talks in New Delhi.
Asked if the US was playing a role other than encouraging it," Crowley said: "This is about the future
relationship between two important allies. It is really for India and Pakistan to establish the kind of
dialogue we think is in the long-term interest of both countries."

The spokesman responded with a "No" when asked if there was any kind of mediation at this time by the
US.
Us furstration

A drive by the US to force Pakistan to crack down on al-Qaeda and the Taliban has failed to meet
Washington¶s expectations, top officials in the Obama administration have acknowledged.

Although the US hails the Pakistani army¶s recent offensives against home-grown insurgents in South
Waziristan and the Swat valley, Washington would like Islamabad to carry out similar action on its territory
against the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda.

But a series of recent trips by US officials to Pakistan ± including General David Petraeus, the head of US
central command, and James Jones, national security adviser ± failed to secure as much co-operation as
Washington wanted.

This week, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, was urged ³to take stock of
Pakistan¶s own limitations´ in stepping up the hunt for Islamist militants and to ³stop making unrealistic
demands´, a senior Pakistani official said after Admiral Mullen met Asif Ali Zardari, president, and General
Ashfaq Kiyani, the army chief.

For months, US officials have pushed Pakistan to extend its campaign against domestic insurgents to
groups active elsewhere, notably the one led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, a militant the US identifies as one of
its top foes in Afghanistan.

While western officials say Mr Haqqani remains at large in Pakistan¶s border region, Pakistani officials
deny such claims. Last week, a Pakistani security official complained that the US intelligence shared with
Pakistan on the movement of militants including Mr Haqqani ³is often up to two days old and just not
actionable´.

Appearing on MSNBC this week, Joe Biden, US vice-president, said: ³Are they [Pakistan] doing enough?
No, but it¶s amazing how reality has a way of intruding on people¶s plans. When [the insurgents] went and
took the Swat valley, all of a sudden the Pakistanis went, µwhoa, they¶re 60 [kilometres] from Islamabad¶.´
He predicted that over the next two years Washington would provide ³more direct assistance to Pakistan
as it relates to stabilising their economy, building their infrastructure, as well as getting them to move on
our mutual interest, which includes the Haqqani network and includes the Taliban in Pakistan´.

In an allusion to the difficulty of convincing Islamabad, Mr Biden added: ³But this is a hell of a process.´

Traditionally, elements of the Pakistani intelligence services have maintained relations with the Taliban as
a source of influence over Afghanistan and a counterweight to India¶s regional role.

In addition, the main US push to recast relations with Pakistan ± a five-year, $7.5bn aid programme
recently approved by Congress ± has had to struggle against suspicions among Pakistan¶s powerful
military about accompanying conditions. The legislation requires the US to report on Pakistan¶s action
against militants, its military¶s respect for civilian institutions and its efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation.

Strains in relations have been reflected in the increasing difficulty the US embassy in Islamabad is having
in obtaining or extending visas for its staff.

A US embassy official said Pakistan had yet to grant visa extensions for 135 staff and that it had become
harder to obtain visas for new staff.
In a recent conversation with reporters, a top US military official added that, although Washington was not
yet satisfied with Pakistani action against the Afghan Taliban, the US could succeed in Afghanistan
without a complete crackdown in Pakistan.

³I believe the Afghan Taliban can be defeated really by denying them Afghanistan,´ he said.

³Most of the Afghan Taliban are Afghans and therefore the great mass of them don¶t go to and from
Pakistan.´

He added that the weaker the Afghan Taliban became the less tolerant Pakistan would be towards it,
since the group would then represent both less of a threat and be less useful as potential leverage
against India.

Nevertheless, Barack Obama, US president, has set the top priority as the battle against al-Qaeda, not
the Taliban ± despite his decision to send an extra 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.

Perhaps the chief weapon in the fight has been the use of drone attacks against the leaders of al-Qaeda,
using unmanned vehicles that take off from CIA bases in Pakistan and are piloted remotely from the US.

Mr Obama has greatly stepped up such attacks, as he promised to do during his campaign for the
presidency, and his administration has claimed to have killed top al-Qaeda leaders, most recently last
week.

But the US would like to expand such strikes still further, despite Pakistani resistance. The drone strikes
are unpopular within Pakistan itself and are blamed for civilian casualties, despite CIA assurances that its
methods are efficient.

Go between

The war in Afghanistan is now clearly President Obama¶s war after his surge of 30,000 troops
and the successful retaking of a former Taliban stronghold in Marjah this past week by US
forces.

But there is also a diplomatic front, one in which Mr. Obama will need another surge: improved
relations between India and Pakistan, two key players in the region.

Just how soon Obama will be able to bring US soldiers home from Afghanistan depends to a
certain extent on whether these nuclear-armed adversaries in South Asia can end their historic
rivalry, especially their maneuvering for influence in neighboring Afghanistan.

With a 63-year history of hostility and three wars dragging down their relations, India and
Pakistan held talks Feb. 25 ± partly under US pressure. India had cut off formal peacemaking
contact after the 2008 attacks in Mumbai (Bombay) by Pakistan-linked terrorists.

The talks in New Delhi did not go very well. There was no agreement to meet again, only a
suggestion to ³keep in touch.´ No joint statement, no joint press conference, and lots of finger-
pointing.
What¶s more, a bomb explosion in Kabul on Friday seemed to be targeted at Indians living in the
Afghan capital, perhaps an attempt by pro-Pakistan militants to disrupt further talks.

All this points to the need for Obama and his special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, to be more
forceful in reconciling India and Pakistan as part of a regional approach to ending the Afghan
war.

Pakistan can¶t very well root out Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other militants along its Afghan
border if its military still remains focused on a perceived threat from India. More of its forces
need to be transferred from the border with India to the mountainous frontier with Afghanistan.

And India can¶t very well trust Pakistan not to go back to its old pattern of supporting terrorists
like the Afghan Taliban or the anti-Indian militants seeking to liberate the disputed territory of
Kashmir.

This tangled web of differences may not be easily untied by India and Pakistan by themselves.

Yes, both countries have strategic incentives to warm up to each other, especially in viewing
terrorism as a joint enemy.

India is trying to match China¶s bid for influence in the region. And it needs an end to terrorist
attacks on its soil by Pakistan-related terrorists in order to keep its economy humming at about 9
percent and to reduce massive poverty.

Pakistan, meanwhile, has revived its fragile democracy since 2007 and last year finally
awakened to the internal threat to its stability from jihadist groups. But it has not gone far enough
to eliminate those militants or to turn over suspects in the 2008 Mumbai bombing to India.

For now, the US cannot mediate their specific differences, especially on Kashmir. (The US tried
to mediate that conflict in the early 1960s only to further push India away from any alliance with
the US during the cold war.) As a rising power, India resists a strong US hand in the region
although it seeks a global partnership with America.

The Obama administration can certainly do more to push the two back to the negotiating table.
To help that along, it must continue to win the trust of both nations as long-term partners.Â

The US should improve ties with the Pakistani military and treat Pakistan with as much long-
term strategic interest as it does India. And it must further its growing alliance with India and
pressure Pakistan to arrest anti-India militants.

Only with an even-handed approach will the US be able to keep the two countries on the road to
negotiations and help end a long feud that spills over into Afghanistan.

Sometimes wars are fought far from the battlefield. Obama¶s success as commander in chief in
Afghanistan will also depend on his diplomatic skills in South Asia¶s long cold war.
%ope to be held

Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani has hoped that as agreed during US Secretary of State's visit to
Pakistan in October last year, the strategic dialogue between Pakistan and the US would be scheduled
expeditiously to discuss agreed components during the first half of 2010.
%e underlined the imperative of the strategic dialogue for building trust to remove the misperceptions
or misgivings prevalent on both sides.
According to Spokesman Prime Minister %ouse, the Premier was talking to Ambassador %olbrooke,
Special US Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan who along with a delegation called on him at the
Prime Minister's %ouse here Thursday morning.
On having been briefed by Ambassador %olbrooke and his team on the "Operation Mushtarik", the
Prime Minister expressed the hope that Pakistan's concerns on account of spillover of refugees and
militants from %elmand into Balochistan and NWFP will be kept in view by the US and ISAF forces and
there would be enhanced coordination and cooperation with Pakistan armed forces in this regard.
The Prime Minister welcomed the launching of mobile phone network with the cooperation of telecom
companies of Pakistan through the IT Division to reach out the general public for dispelling the negative
propaganda of the militants and projecting a true picture of peace loving religion of Islam. %e also
appreciated introduction of mobile banking system to disrupt the illicit financing of the groups involved
in insurgencies.
The Prime Minister particularly stressed the need for fast tracking of dialogue on energy sector to
mitigate the power shortage in the country. %e hoped that the projects, identified in the US strategy for
regional stabilization on Pakistan and Afghanistan, for helping Pakistan to overcome the present power
shortages would be implemented on priority basis. %e note with concern that the delay in disbursement
of CSF and the release of the appropriated amount under the Kerry-Lugar Bill to Pakistan were adversely
affecting Pakistan's overall economy.