x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

US won't interfere with India and Pakistan on Kashmir

While offering to play 'any role' in reducing tension between the nuclear-armed neighbours, Obama says there is no question of forced US interference in Kashmir.

President Barack Obama said Monday that the United States could not "impose" a solution on India and Pakistan's dispute over Kashmir -- the trigger for two wars between the South Asian rivals.

While offering to play "any role" that the nuclear-armed neighbours feel could help reduce tensions, Obama made it clear that there was no question of forced US interference in Kashmir or any other bilateral dispute.

"The US cannot impose solutions to these problems," he told a joint press conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the final leg of a three-day state visit.

"My hope is that conversations may be taking place between the two countries but they may not start on that particular (Kashmir) flashpoint," Obama said.

All too aware of India's sensitivity to any proposal that smacks of third-party mediation over Kashmir, Obama has addressed the subject with great caution during his visit, only broaching it in public when directly questioned.

India had been alarmed during Obama's White House election campaign when he raised the possibility of appointing a special envoy to deal with the issue.

India has an estimated 500,000 troops in Kashmir, which is split into Indian- and Pakistani-administered parts. There has been a separatist insurgency in the Indian zone for 20 years.

India and Pakistan claim the mountainous region in full, and the territory has been the cause of two of the three wars the countries have fought since independence from Britain in 1947.

Commenting on Obama's efforts to encourage an India-Pakistan dialogue, Singh said India remained committed to engagement with its long-time rival, but said Pakistan must first distance itself properly from "terror-induced coercion".

India suspended a peace dialogue with Pakistan in the wake of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, which claimed 166 lives, and the two countries have since managed only a series of exploratory meetings on resuming structured talks.

India accuses Pakistan of failing to crack down sufficiently on militant groups that operate from bases on its territory, such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which New Delhi blames for the Mumbai carnage.

"We are committed to resolving all outstanding issues between our two countries, including the 'K' word," Singh said in reference to Kashmir.

"But you cannot simultaneously be talking when at the same time the terror machine is as active as ever before.

"Once Pakistan moves away from terror-induced coercion, we will be very happy to engage productively," he said.

Earlier Monday, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, said India had spurned concerted Pakistani "peace overtures" since the Mumbai attacks.

"It would have been most helpful if our initiatives had been welcomed and responded to in a positive manner," he said.

Obama's three-day visit to India is being watched with envy in Pakistan, where some have interpreted the decision not to include Islamabad on the itinerary of his latest Asian tour as a slight to the Islamic republic.