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'Holbrooke's mandate is strictly AfPak, not India'

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
July 28, 2009 08:26 IST
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Senior United States administration sources have dismissed speculation raised in some media reports that Richard Holbrooke, US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, had cancelled his visit to India this time around because he avoided getting caught up in the controversy over the opposition attacks on the India-Pakistan joint statement announced in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, which even some in the ruling Congress Party have decried.

The sources told that Ambassador Holbrooke "is not getting out to India this time, as we have announced publicly, mainly because of scheduling conflicts and for no other reason."

Last week, US Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, P J Crowley said in Washington that owing to a 'mismatch' in terms of scheduling, Holbrooke would not be visiting India as he usually does following his visits to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"I think Ambassador (Holbrooke) is not going to stop in India on this trip. There was a mismatch in terms of scheduling. So, he will do that on this -- on a future trip to the region," Crowley said.

The sources asserted that "Ambassador Holbrooke's mandate is strictly Afghanistan-Pakistan -- not India-Pakistan or US-India relations. Nothing more,  nothing less."

"India is a significant player in the President's regional approach in our AfPak strategy, is has been agreed in principle, that we will keep India informed of the developments as we pursue this strategy, and that is precisely what Ambassador Holbrooke has done during his earlier visits to Delhi," sources added.

"This time around too, if not for the scheduling mismatch, this is exactly what he would have done," the sources said.

They said that "this (the debate in India over the India-Pakistan joint statement, including the controversial reference to Balochistan) is an internal debate in India and we have absolutely no intention of getting involved in this."

However, the sources acknowledged, "Of course, as we have publicly stated we are indeed glad that India and Pakistan have decided to re-engage, and we hope it will lead to the resumption of the composite dialogue between them."

"But, once again, this is for the Indians and the Pakistanis to work out for themselves, as Secretary Clinton made clear during her visit," the sources reiterated, "and Ambassador Holbrooke's brief is strictly to keep India apprised of the developments in the AfPak strategy."

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC