By Arun Kumar
Washington, May 29 (IANS): The United States says it has consistently pressed Pakistan to stop the continuing infiltration into India by Punjab-based terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taeba and Jaish-e-Mohammed as this was a key obstacle to improved relations between "two friends of US".
"On Pakistan, I'm sure it will be a topic of discussion" at the inaugural US-India strategic dialogue here next week Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O. Blake told reporters Friday when asked what the US was doing to rein in Pakistan to allay India's concerns about cross border terrorism.
Welcoming the announcement that Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers will meet in Islamabad in mid-July and Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram will be visiting Islamabad in late June, he said: "Those are very important opportunities to try to expand relations and to reduce some of the frictions between these two friends of the United States."
But Blake acknowledged "One of the most important obstacles to expansion of those relations is the continuing infiltration from Pakistan to by Punjab-based groups, such as Lashkar e-Taeba and Jaish-e-Mohammed and others."
"And the United States has consistently called for greater action on the part of Pakistan to stop the activities of these groups," he said suggesting "Pakistan has done so in the past between 2004 and 2007, and that laid the basis for a very significant expansion in relations between India and Pakistan.
"So we'd like to see these two friends get back on that same course again. But one of the first things that has to happen is for there to be visible progress in stopping this."
President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Robert Gates have all made the point "that increasingly, these groups are all operating together as a syndicate. And so it's very much in Pakistan's own interest to take on these groups as well," Blake said,
Highlighting what he called "the unprecedented counterterrorism cooperation," between India and the US, he said they had raised the level of cooperation "because of the increasingly common threats that we face, particularly those in India faced by Lashkar- e-Taeba and other groups."
Asked if the US will relay Pakistan's concerns about India "training the Afghan army", he said: "I'm not sure that India's providing that much training to the Afghan army. The vast majority of the assistance that the Indians are providing to Afghanistan is in the form of economic assistance."
And US "welcomed very much the assistance that India has provided and all of our cabinet-level officials have welcomed that and will continue to do so," he said describing it as "a very important part of the international effort to help stabilise Afghanistan."
Denying reports that US is pressurising India to have its dialogue with Pakistan despite the fact that Islamabad has not taken any action against those responsible for the Mumbai terrorist attack, the official said while US "always have an interest in seeing our two friends have peaceful relations, but we are not pressurising either side."
Asked where the Kashmir issue fitted into this puzzle, Blake said "What's most important is first to get these talks going again and once they've gotten beyond the immediate counterterrorism issues, to focus on some of the important opportunities like trade" before "taking up some of these more sensitive territorial issues."