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Continued Suspension of India-Pakistan Peace Process Causes Concern in Washington


As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads to New Delhi later this month and Timothy Roemer prepares to take up his new job as U.S. ambassador to India, concern is growing in Washington over India's relations with its longstanding rival Pakistan. Several prominent Senators say they want Roemer to encourage an improvement in the overall relationship between the two neighbors.

After last year's deadly terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India suspended an almost four year peace process with Pakistan. India had quickly linked the attackers to a Pakistan-based militant group know as
Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Pakistan says it is doing everything possible to bring the suspects to justice, but India refuses to resume the dialogue, alleging that Pakistan is not doing enough.

In Washington, U.S. Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says he sees hope. "There's some indications, some tentative signs of, sort of you know, a renewal of effort to recreate that relationship that was actually moving prior to Mumbai," Kerry said.

Kerry was speaking at the confirmation hearing of Tim Roemer, as the new U.S. ambassador to India.

Roemer noted that there were secret peace efforts between the two nations when President Pervez Musharraf was in office.

"I think it's an important role for the United States to recognize that while Pakistan and India are two sovereign and independent nations, that there is much that we can do to encourage these two countries to continue to talk, to exchange," Roemer said.

He said he would encourage military-to-military understanding and also updated hotlines [direct telephone connections] should terrorists attack again, as they did in Mumbai.

But the ranking Republican on the committee, Senator Richard Lugar, noted that the territorial dispute over Kashmir remains the main problem between the two countries.

"Many would feel that much of the Pakistani military is focused on that border of Kashmir," Senator Lugar said. "And we've tried to persuade some to focus elsewhere in the country."

Roemer said he would encourage the two neighbors to first work on their overall relationship. "It's one that we would diplomatically encourage that the Pakistanis and the Indians first of all improve their relationship, their ties, their trade, their exchanges -- to foster peace and more prosperity in that area," he said.

Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat, insists that Pakistan should do more to dismantle Lashkar-e-Taiba. "The United States has a clear interest in improving counterterrorism cooperation between India and Pakistan, and Pakistan could certainly do more," he states.

Such an effort might prevent a repetition of the Mumbai terror attacks, says Roemer, so that the two rivals can resume their dialogue.

There's more we can do to share information about our common threats in that area, which are al Qaida, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, and try to prevent the next attack from taking place, or deflect that next attack," Roemer said.

Before Roemer embarks on his new diplomatic job in New Delhi, Indian Prime minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Yousaf Raza Gilani, are slated to meet again this month in the sidelines of a multi-national meeting.

Last month Mr. Singh met with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and insisted that Pakistan be more sincere in its attempts to uproot terrorists from its soil.

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