The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Poll only first step: US

New Delhi, Oct. 10: The international community, led by the US, has made it clear that it would like India to resume its stalled dialogue with Pakistan, having lauded New Delhi’s courage and maturity in successfully conducting elections in Jammu and Kashmir.

Britain and other western allies of the US are yet to come out with a public statement. But, in private, they have hinted that their views are similar to Washington’s.

“Though elections alone cannot solve the problems between India and Pakistan, it is an important component and we think the poll process will be positive start,” US ambassador Robert Blackwill told reporters in Hyderabad today. “After Kashmir and the Pakistan elections are behind us, we hope we can make assessments and we will be engaging both sides,” he added.

In Washington, US state department’s Richard Boucher was clearer in articulating the American position. “The US has always supported free and fair elections in Kashmir, held without outside interference and violence. Throughout this process, we have condemned the extremist attempts to disrupt voting in Kashmir,” he said this morning.

British foreign secretary Jack Straw was also expected to come out with a statement similar to what the US has been saying.

India claims there have been no positive signals from Islamabad that could create the climate necessary for resumption of dialogue. “Pakistan cannot put a gun to our head and expect us to return to negotiations,” foreign minister Yashwant Sinha said in a recent interview.

US secretary of state Colin Powell, during his visit to the region earlier this year, had made it clear the Bush administration favoured peaceful, free and fair polls in Kashmir, but that could only be the “first step”.

India and Pakistan would have to resume their talks to find an amicable solution to Kashmir, a “decade-old problem” between the two South Asian neighbours, Powell had argued.

The Indian establishment is aware that the pressure from Washington and other western capitals to return to negotiations with Pakistan would mount in the coming days. The outside world is not convinced that that the threat of a war breaking out in the region is over, despite assurances by Delhi.

The continued heavy deployment of troops by the two sides along their borders has remained a major worry for the West, which feels only a resumption of dialogue can bring down the temperature in the region and pave the way for normalisation of Indo-Pak relations.

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