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Obama pushes India to talk to Pakistan

08 November, 2010

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NEW DELHI: US President Barack Obama called on India on Sunday to bolster peace efforts with Pakistan that have floundered since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, relations seen as crucial to his troubled efforts to win the war in Afghanistan.

On the second day of his official visit to India, Obama faces a diplomatic tightrope in fostering ties with the growing global power, while at the same time helping Pakistan with billions of dollars in aid and promoting wider peace in Afghanistan.

Obama’s first leg of a 10-day Asian tour has been hailed as moving the US closer to India as Washington tries to revive a weak economy and gather support to pressure China on its currency. But on Sunday, India’s worries about Pakistan dominated.

Peppered by questions from students at a college in India’s financial hub, Obama toed a cautious line between the two nuclear-armed foes, saying both were needed to help stabilise Afghanistan where thousands of US troops battle militants.

“My hope is that over time, trust develops between the two countries, that dialogue begins, perhaps on less controversial issues, building up to more controversial issues,” Obama told students.

He said the US cannot impose peace on India and Pakistan. He defended US support for Pakistan and said India is the country with the biggest stake in Pakistan’s stability.

“So my hope is that over time, trust develops between the two countries, that dialogue begins ... and that both countries can prosper,” the president said. “That will not happen tomorrow.”

“I am absolutely convinced that the country that has the biggest stake in Pakistan is India,” he told students at the prestigious St Xavier’s College in south Mumbai.

“If Pakistan is stable and prosperous, that’s best for India,” he added.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit was quoted by news agency Press Trust of India as saying the US ought to play an “effective role for an amicable solution of the longstanding issue of Kashmir” given close India-US ties.

“India’s investment in development in Afghanistan is appreciated,” Obama added. “Pakistan has to be a partner in this process, in fact all countries in the region are going to need to be partners in this process.

“The United States welcomes that, we don’t think we can do this alone.”

He said Islamabad was making progress against what he called the “cancer” of extremism – which is often directed at India – but not quickly enough.

“Progress is not as quick as we would like,” he added, noting that many militants were holed up in the rugged northwestern Pakistani regions close to the Afghan border. “There are more Pakistanis who’ve been killed by terrorists inside Pakistan than probably anywhere else,” Obama said.

He said Pakistan had to help in the development of Afghanistan. “India’s investment in development in Afghanistan is appreciated. Pakistan has to be a partner in this process,” he said.

Earlier, Obama opened the second day of his visit by dancing with his wife Michelle and local schoolchildren at celebrations for Diwali, the Hindu festival of light. In mid-afternoon, he flew to the Indian capital, where he was greeted by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

End.

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