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US to engage India, Pakistan to end water dispute

24 March, 2010

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WASHINGTON: A United States official has said that Washington will engage Pakistan and India to help improve their tension-brewing situation over water as Washington wants the two South Asian neighbours to avoid any conflict over the lingering dispute.

“I think we need to work on this and find ways to make sure that especially in the Pakistan-Indian case, we can help move that situation forward to an improved situation,” US Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero said at a State Department briefing on the occasion of the World Water Day on Monday.

The US undersecretary was asked about Washington’s policy toward the water dispute between Pakistan and India in view of fears that the dispute, if not resolved, could exacerbate tensions into a conflict.

“What we want to make sure that we can do is help countries avoid conflict over water. The potential for conflict over it exists not only in Pakistan and in India but in other places as well,” the US diplomat added.

“So the effort is to elevate water in our diplomatic engagement with countries, to help countries increase their own capacity to address these issues, and as the secretary mentioned today, to bring some of the forces that we can to help not only manage the existing water but also find ways to increase the supply of water. So the issue is the recognition of water as a potential source of conflict in our elevated effort to address it with greater priority than we have in the past.”

Asked if the Obama administration is specifically talking with India and Pakistan on the water issue, Otero replied: “I think we are beginning to do that. And indeed, part of the discussion that is going on, we are quite aware is between the two countries.

“The role that the United States would play in any kind of existing relationship between two countries is one that has to be carefully focused, and whereas in some cases it can play a diplomatic role and help improve countries ability to dialogue with each other,” she added.

“In other places, it probably needs to stand back and just let the countries move forward. So it really does vary from situation to situation,” the undersecretary added. When her attention was drawn to the fact that India is building dams on rivers flowing into Pakistan and that Pakistan is facing severe water shortage, Otero responded: “We are clearly aware of the enormous importance, especially as you look at upstream and downstream countries and they look at water. I think the message that we are sending today is that the United States is elevating the role that it seeks to play in issues related to water. Whether it will become the mediator in any particular conflict is not something that we are prepared to say right now”. —APP

Online adds: US State Department spokesman Philip J Crowley told reporters on Tuesday that the US was broadening and deepening its relationship with both New Delhi and Islamabad and would keep encouraging them to increase their dialogue.

“I think we are satisfied with the level of engagement that we have across a wide-range of issues with the Indian government,” he said, when asked to comment about the forthcoming dialogue with Pakistan just a week after Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao’s visit.

“Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did join Under Secretary of State Bill Burns in a meeting with Rao that was charting the way forward on the US-India Strategic Dialogue,” he recalled.

“We’ll have a similar conversation with Pakistan this week on a wide range of issues from agriculture, water, and energy, economic development and finance, defence and security, social issues, and public diplomacy.”

Philip J Crowley said: “We are broadening and deepening our relationship with both India and Pakistan, and we certainly are looking for ways in which we can continue to encourage the two countries to increase their dialogue as well.”

Asked if US was supportive of a gas pipeline deal signed last week by Pakistan and Iran, Crowley said it was a decision for Pakistan to make. “But our concerns about the role that Iran plays in the region and beyond are well-known,” he added.

“We continue a wide range of discussions not only in the region but around the world in terms of the nature of future economic transactions between Pakistan and Iran, and we’ll continue that conversation,” he said.

The official said the US supported the Afghan government’s interest in reaching out to members of insurgent groups provided they renounce violence, and have no ties to al-Qaeda.“These are primarily issues between Afghanistan and insurgent groups as part of the reintegration and reconciliation process,” he said when asked about Sunday’s peace talks between Afghanistan President and Hezb-e-Islamic leaders, who have links with al-Qaeda.


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