US says bilateral dialogue between India, Pakistan best way to resolve disputes3 min read . Updated: 22 Oct 2019, 09:20 AM IST
- Alice Wells, US acting assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, remarks come after a major effort by Pakistan to engage the US as a mediator
- US says the ‘chief obstacle’ to bilateral talks was Islamabad’s continued support to terrorists
NEW DELHI : The US on Tuesday said it supports direct dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi as outlined in the 1972 Simla Agreement, echoing India’s stand and giving it a shot in the arm on the Kashmir issue.
The “chief obstacle" to bilateral talks was Islamabad’s continued support to terrorists who engage in cross-border terrorism, US acting assistant secretary of state for south and central Asia Alice G. Wells also told the subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington.
In her remarks, posted on the committee website, Wells also said that the state department had “raised concerns" with New Delhi over the detention of local residents and political leaders, including former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir.
“We have urged Indian authorities to respect human rights and restore full access to services, including internet and mobile networks. Post-paid mobile service has been restored in the Valley, but internet access remains intermittent," she said.
On Pakistan, Wells backed India’s position that bilateral dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad was the best way to solve disputes between the two countries.
“We believe that direct dialogue between India and Pakistan, as outlined in the 1972 Simla Agreement, holds the most potential for reducing tensions," Wells said.
“History shows us what is possible," Wells added, pointing to back channel discussions that had taken place between 2006 and 2007, when India and Pakistan had made significant progress on several issues, including Kashmir.
The remarks by Wells come after a major effort by Pakistan to engage the US as a mediator, especially after India scrapped Article 370 of the Constitution, which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir. Earlier this year, US President Donald Trump caused a stir when he said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to mediate between India and Pakistan and offered to do so. The White House later back-pedalled on the offer.
“Restarting a productive bilateral dialogue requires building trust and the chief obstacle remains Pakistan’s continued support for extremist groups that engage in cross-border terrorism," Wells said.
“Pakistan’s harbouring of terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, which seek to foment violence across the Line of Control, is destabilising and Pakistani authorities remain accountable for their actions," she said in what can be seen as a stern warning to Pakistan.
“We believe the foundation of any successful dialogue between India and Pakistan is based on Pakistan taking sustained and irreversible steps against militants and terrorists in its territory," Wells said, clearly putting the onus on Pakistan to create a conducive atmosphere for dialogue, while endorsing India’s long-held position on the matter. New Delhi has repeatedly said that “talks and terrorism cannot go together".
The US official took note of the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir and said that security forces have killed terrorists in multiple encounters last week. “We are concerned about reports of local and foreign militants attempting to intimidate local residents and business owners to stymie normal economic activity. The United States supports the rights of Kashmiris to peacefully protest, but condemns the actions of terrorists who seek to use violence and fear to undermine dialogue," she said.
The state department has encouraged India “to follow through on its commitment to hold assembly elections at the earliest opportunity. Small numbers of local political leaders were released earlier this month, a trend we hope will continue. Government offices, primary schools, and colleges are open, though student attendance remains low," she said.
Wells also spoke about incidents of violence and discrimination against minorities, including attacks on Dalits and Muslims by cow vigilantes. These, the US official said, “were not in keeping with India’s legal protections for minorities".