With President Barack Obama skipping Pakistan when he makes his second visit to India, a senior White House official has said the US does not view its relationships with the two countries as taking place at the expense of the other.
“It’s important that we make clear, and the (US) President did last time when he went to India (in 2010), that we don’t view these relationships as taking place at the expense of the other… That we can have a good relationship with India and we can have a good relationship with Pakistan,” Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters.
“Frankly, that’s in the interest of all the three countries,” Rhodes said when asked if the White House wrestled with the diplomatic implications of Obama missing out on visiting Pakistan.
Obama is the second US President after Jimmy Carter to have not visited Pakistan during their India trip.
Carter had visited India in January 1978 and skipped Pakistan apparently because of instable political situations there after the Zia-ul-Haq-led military coup overthrew the elected government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
All other presidential visits – Dwight D Eisenhower in 1959, Richard Nixon in 1969, Bill Clinton in 2000 and George W Bush in March 2006 – have included Pakistan.
Obama had also not visited Pakistan during his first trip to India in November 2010.
“Considering the sensitivity of the issue, he had called Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to
inform him about his decision to travel to India.
“The President was not able to visit Pakistan in 2011, as was originally planned, given significant bilateral tensions that year… The Bin Laden raid, and a number of other incidents that took place,” Rhodes said.
“I think both countries have acknowledged that. But we’ve moved on. Recently, Secretary (of State) John Kerry was able to visit Pakistan. He was able to visit Peshawar, where the horrific terrorist attack took place. We are able to have a strategic dialogue with the Pakistanis,” he said.
“We believe that that relationship (with Pakistan) is on the uptick. It is as good as it has been in years. So we feel confident about our high-level engagement,” Rhodes said.
In an apparent reference to India’s response to a Taliban attack on an army school in Peshawar, he said, “I think terrorism is an issue that can unite people who have faced traditional divides. We saw that in the aftermath of the horrific attack in Peshawar, where India was very quick to issue a statement of condolence and reach out to the Pakistani people,” he said.
The Indian government, he said, is very focused on dealing with the terrorism threat.
The US has encouraged India and Pakistan to pursue a peace dialogue to resolve their bilateral issues, and has been very supportive of that process, the presidential aide said.