By Arun Kumar
Washington, March 20 (IANS) The first strategic dialogue between the United States and Pakistan here next week would not be at the expense of India or any other country in the region, according to a top US diplomat.
"We have an important strategic dialogue with India and with other countries, including China. It makes it all the more important we have one with Pakistan," US Special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke told reporters Friday.
"But this is a bilateral dialogue," he said when asked in what way would it be different from the one with India. "Let me put this very clearly: This strategic dialogue with Pakistan is not at the expense of any other country in the region."
However, one difference between the dialogues with India and Pakistan was made amply clear with Holbrooke saying that there can be no strategic dialogue with Pakistan without the active participation of its military.
This is the reason why Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani and Inter Services Intelligence Chief Lieutenant General Shuja Pasha have been included in the March US-Pakistan strategic dialogue, he said.
"How can you have a strategic dialogue without including the military?" he exclaimed responding to a suggestion that the army chief had been included in the Pakistani delegation because the US is more comfortable talking with the military rather than the political government headed by President Asif Ali Zardari.
"If we have a strategic dialogue in our country, we're going to include the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or some other representative. So we are very pleased that General Kayani is part of this delegation. We think that it's one country, one government, one team. It was their decision, and we welcomed it," Holbrooke said.
Holbrooke said the strategic dialogue means that the two countries talk about their basic core objectives, which in this case means defeating and destroying Al Qaeda, helping the Afghans become self-reliant and strengthening Pakistan's ability to take care of its own security.
"So we need to sit down with our Pakistani friends and hear their points of view and give us ours."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmoud Qureshi would be co-chairing the meeting. Besides the army chief, the Pakistani delegation will include Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar.
On the US side Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen are also included.
Asked if the US would address Pakistan's water disputes with India, the envoy said: "We have a very broad and complex agenda in these talks, and this is the first strategic dialogue ever at this level, and the first of this Administration. And we're going to listen carefully to whatever the Pakistanis say."
In reply to another question Holbrooke said he "will definitely be going to India soon".