WASHINGTON: Pressing for resumption of Indo-Pak ties, the US Secretary of State, Ms Hillary Clinton has told Pakistanis that normalisation of relations with India would benefit them “even more,” as she said even Pakistani businessmen desire expansion of trade that would offer them access to huge Indian markets.
At a round table with Pakistani journalists in Islamabad recently, Ms Clinton batted for Indo-Pak friendship, and applauded the leadership of the two countries for reviving peace talks despite opposition at home.
Favouring a resumption of ties, she said: “I happen to think, on balance, it is even more in Pakistan’s interests, because opening markets – every businessman I speak with in Pakistan kind of whispers to me, “Please, can’t we get the markets open, because I want to go compete inside India,” Ms Clinton said in response to a question.
Ms Clinton, however, ruled out US mediation on the Kashmir issue, saying it was not a possibility as for that to happen both sides need to agree and that is not the case now.
The US, she said, stands ready to encourage the dialogue between India and Pakistan that is absolutely in both countries’ interests.
She said she appreciated the leadership of the two countries for going ahead with the talks despite opposition.
“I really give the leadership in both countries high marks because it is not popular. They are attacked in the press, they’re attacked by organisations,” she said.
But to a question on the prospect of former president and her husband Mr Bill Clinton assuming the role of the Special US Envoy for Pakistan and India to resolve Kashmir, she said: “Well, in order to have anyone play that role, both sides have to agree. And that has not been the case as of now”.
She said the US would like to encourage more dialogue between the two neighbours.
“So there are many ramifications to the longstanding disputes over Kashmir and other issues between India and Pakistan. So even though the officials of both governments have been meeting, we want to encourage much more dialogue,” Ms Clinton said according to the transcripts made available by the State Department.
The India’s External Affairs Minister, Mr S M Krishna met his Pakistani counterpart Mr Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Islamabad on July 15 and the talks ended on an acrimonious note with sharp differences coming out in the open at their joint press conference.
“We should work as hard as we can to encourage the leadership of Pakistan and India to persevere despite the attacks in both countries,” Ms Clinton said.
She observed that that it would be in the interest of long-term security and economic benefits to try to resolve bilateral disputes.
India and Pakistan, which are members of the South Asia Free Trade Area (SAFTA) have dismal trade figures.
The bilateral trade was estimated to be as low as USD 2 billion in 2008, and Pakistan accounts less than one per cent of India’s trade.
Also, a large amount of merchandise between the two nations is routed through third countries, mostly through Gulf nations.