Sharif again harps on Kashmir - but finds no takers

Washington, Oct 23 (IANS) Ahead of a meeting with US President Barack Obama here Wednesday, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made yet another attempt to draw Washington into the Kashmir dispute, but once again found no takers.

"Given its relationship with India, US has capacity to do more to help Pakistan and India resolve their disputes, including Kashmir," he said in an address to the US Institute of Peace, a US Congress funded federal institution Tuesday.

It was his third call in three days to Washington to get involved in the dispute, which US has made clear it considers a bilateral matter between New Delhi and Islamabad.

Sharif made his first plea on Kashmir in London Sunday. He repeated it again that evening during a dinner meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry saying "The people of Pakistan want to see all of our issues with India resolved through dialogue."

"Kashmir, of course, is a very difficult issue and very difficult to resolve," Sharif acknowledged in his speech Tuesday.

"But I think, by sitting and talking, we will be able to find some way of resolving that, too," he said, calling it "a flashpoint not only in the region, but the whole world."

US had rejected out of hand Sharif's call for Washington to get involved to resolve the Kashmir issue even before he landed here Sunday with a senior administration official saying that "On Kashmir, our policy has not changed an iota."

And as Time magazine noted, "New Delhi, though, has no interest in American mediation of its disputes with Islamabad, nor is there much indication that the Obama administration would want to be involved."

On the issue of terrorism emanating from Pakistan, which is of equal concern to both India and the US, also Sharif sought to portray Pakistan as a victim of terrorism and not an "epicentre of terrorism" as asserted by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Calling terrorism and extremism as the greatest challenge to a democratic Pakistan, Sharif said, "Pakistan is neither a source of, nor the epicentre of terrorism as is sometimes alleged."

Pakistan was "rather a victim of the scourge", he said, asserting "My government is firmly committed to ending cycle of violence in Pakistan."

"We want to transform our relations with friends around the world, as well as our immediate neighbours," he said.

During his meeting last month with Sharif in New York as also in his address to the UN general assembly, Manmohan Singh had served a stern warning to its neighbour to shut down its "terrorist machinery" to make peace.

Reasserting what he had told Obama at his Sep 27 summit and the UN general assembly about Pakistan being the "epicentre of terrorism", Manmohan Singh had made it clear to Sharif that their composite dialogue could not be resumed without restoration of peace on the Line of Control in Kashmir.

Sharif also voiced another of Pakistan's pet peeves - denial of an India like civil nuclear deal, a proposition that has received little support in the US Congress.

"We would hope for a non-discriminatory approach in fields like civil nuclear cooperation," he said asking US to help in developing Pakistan economy, not only through aid but by promoting trade.

For the record, the White House calling the US-Pakistan relationship "obviously a very important relationship" has said "the president looks forward to welcoming Prime Minister Sharif" as "we are strengthening US-Pakistan relations".

But it's yet to be seen how receptive would Obama be to Sharif's pleas.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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