U.S. Afghan envoy: India-Pakistan detente "useful"

KABUL Sun Jan 17, 2010 9:11am EST

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, speaks during a discussion with journalists in Kabul January 17, 2010. REUTERS/ Omar Sobhani

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, speaks during a discussion with journalists in Kabul January 17, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/ Omar Sobhani

KABUL (Reuters) - Easing tension between India and Pakistan would help Western efforts in Afghanistan, but it is up to Islamabad and New Delhi to find their own path toward better ties, the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan said on Sunday.

Richard Holbrooke, who was due to fly to India later on Sunday after visiting Pakistan and Afghanistan, said Washington would welcome better relations between Islamabad and New Delhi, but he has no plans to act as a mediator between the two foes.

"President (Barack) Obama has said publicly that if India and Pakistan improve their relations, he would welcome it," Holbrooke told Reuters in an interview in Kabul before leaving for New Delhi. "But it's up to them to do it for themselves. We are not intermediating between Islamabad and New Delhi."

"Every time I go to India people say: 'Are you working on this problem? Are you a messenger? Are you an envoy between the two countries?" Holbrooke said. "The answer's 'no.'"

He described his visit to India as a "consultative trip, it's not a negotiating trip," unlike his stops in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

His aim was mainly to explain U.S. regional strategy to Indian officials, on his first visit since Obama announced 30,000 extra troops for Afghanistan in December.

India is outside Holbrooke's remit as envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Indians sometimes bristle at the suggestion that Washington is seeking to push them toward a rapprochement with Islamabad as part of an Afghanistan strategy.

Regional experts say Pakistan has sometimes been reluctant to help dismantle militant Islamic groups, including Afghan Taliban based on its soil, in part because it sees them as potential allies in its 60 years of on-again-off-again conflict with India.

Asked if better India-Pakistan ties were necessary to resolve the Afghan conflict, Holbrooke said: "Is it necessary? ... It would be useful." Asked why, he said: "For obvious reasons."

"In this extraordinary strategic context, every country has a legitimate security requirement which has to be acknowledged if we are ever going to get to a resolution of this 30-year process," he said of the three decades of war in Afghanistan.

"The Pakistan-India relationship is unique because of its origins on the same day in August of 1947 and the unresolved issue of the territory on their common border, which has been so disputed," he said.

"Pakistan has legitimate security interests like any nation, based on its ... geo-strategic position," he said. "I am not going to get specific about India's strategic interests. They will speak for themselves."

(Editing by Jon Hemming)