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Unease in India-U.S. relations as Holbrooke arrives
NEW DELHI |
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke will meet Indian officials on Wednesday amid concern in New Delhi that Washington's new regional strategy for Afghanistan is pandering to its old foe Pakistan.
The trip by Holbrooke, special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, is his first to India since President Barack Obama announced plans to boost troop numbers in Afghanistan, while helping Pakistan with more military and non-military aid.
Holbrooke, along with Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, will meet Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon on Wednesday.
India is uneasy that Obama's strategy fails to reflect its concerns about what New Delhi sees as Pakistan's backing of militants, analysts and government officials say.
There are also concerns that Pakistan wants a solution to disputed Kashmir as an element of any regional peace efforts, a condition that India rejects.
"They think if a dialogue begins, that itself will be a move forward," an Indian government official said. "But this will only be a listening brief for us. We really aren't interested unless our concerns are addressed."
Many Indian analysts and officials worry Washington is biased toward helping Pakistan -- an old U.S. ally -- rather than India, which only in recent years moved closer to the United States.
"The U.S. is more receptive to Pakistan's concerns, which is worrying India," said Bharat Karnad of the Centre for Policy Research, a New Delhi-based independent strategic think-tank.
The presence of India in Afghanistan, where it is spending millions of dollars in infrastructure projects, worries Pakistan.
"The U.S. has bought the Pakistan military's line that India's presence in Afghanistan is a threat to them," former Indian foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal told Reuters.
"And they are saying if the U.S. wants Pakistan's full cooperation in fighting al Qaeda, then something should be done to contain or limit India's presence."
Holbrooke on Tuesday denied Washington wanted to become a mediator between the two neighbours. "That is not our job," he told reporters in Islamabad before going to India. Asked about the Kashmir dispute being part of his remit, he said: "That was a misunderstanding. I'm not going to be involved in it."
Holbrooke's visit comes weeks before a general election and the government is not expected to make any commitments.
"So why is he coming now? Because the Americans want to engage India, draw them into the sphere on Afghanistan." an Indian government official said. "They are pushing for a dialogue between India and Pakistan because that is imperative for the American strategy for Afghanistan."
India does not want to talk to Pakistan unless Islamabad investigates the planners of last November's attacks on Mumbai that killed 166 people, prompting New Delhi to put a four-year-old peace initiative on hold.
Pakistan was the Taliban's main backer until Islamabad publicly sided with Washington after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. India accuses it of giving covert support to Islamist forces which bombed the Indian embassy in Kabul last year.
Pakistan says India is arming its Baluch rebels and using Indian consulates in Afghanistan for anti-Pakistan activities.
Sibal said Washington was trying to engage India without taking its sensitivities into account. He wrote in the Mail Today on Tuesday that Indians were angry Obama's policy painted Pakistan as a "helpless, almost guiltless victim of terrorism" but failed to mention the militant attacks on India.
(Additional reporting by Robert Birsel in Islamabad)
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