Q: Joining us in New York is Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake. Secretary Blake, first of all, India and the United States seem to have agreed on a bilateral meeting to take place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. What can we expect will be the focus?
A: I think we will focus on continuing to expand our bilateral partnership in areas like trade and counterterrorism cooperation, but just as importantly working on a lot of regional issues, like Afghanistan, also the opportunities to be seized in the east now that India has expanded its trade with Bangladesh and also the opening that is taking place in Myanmar.
Q: Talking about Afghanistan, there was the first-ever trilateral meeting taking place in New York between the United States, Afghanistan and India. Some analysts point out that the United States is disappointed with Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan and is therefore bringing in India in a bigger fashion. How do you respond to that?
A: This trilateral is in no way an effort to isolate Pakistan, or indeed, to talk about Pakistan. The intent was to see what more we can do together in Afghanistan to help support the security and economic transitions there. And I think the focus was mostly on the economic side, where all three of our countries are working. India has such an important role to play given its large assistance program and the fact that it has made important investments in things like the Hajigak iron ore deposit, and also the fact that it has been such a help developing investment opportunities, hosting an investment conference in May. So we talked about ways that we can build on that.
Q: You spoke about counterterrorism as an issue that you both work on. Where it comes to counterterrorism, there is recent intelligence that has just emerged that Lashkar-eTaiba plans new attacks inside South Asia. Does the U.S. have any intelligence on this and are they cooperating with India?
A: It will not surprise you that I cannot talk about our intelligence matters. Our concerns about Lashkar-e-Taiba are well known, and we continue to work very hard to prevent an attack by LeT not only in India, but also against our troops in Afghanistan.
Q: On the larger counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries: is there anything new there between these two countries as these threats continue?
A: I wouldn’t say there is anything new, because the cooperation is already excellent. And the proof is there hasn’t been a major attack in India in sometime, which I think is a very good testament to not only our cooperation but to the efforts that India itself is making, which have been quite effective.
Q: Pakistani President Zardari while speaking at the UNGA called again for resolutions including plebiscite in Kashmir. What is the U.S. stance on this?
A: The United States has welcomed the progress that India and Pakistan have made in their bilateral relations, particularly on the trade side. I think External Affairs Minister Krishna’s recent visit to Islamabad in early September was quite successful, and this new visa agreement that has been announced would be quite helpful in promoting greater trade and other kinds of people to people interactions. Beyond that, it’s really up to the two countries themselves to determine the pace, scope, and character of what they talk about. Certainly Kashmir is a highly sensitive issue, so I anticipate they will first have to build confidence in other areas before they tackle that one.
Q: You’ve talked about commercial ties between those two countries as being important. Do you think commercial ties have potential to counter some of the mutual trust deficit that exists on the extremism and violence and terrorism questions?
A: I think they do, because they build up people on both sides of the border who have a stake in peace. And certainly the business community has always played an important role in both countries. Again, you only have to look at the figures. Trade between India and Pakistan has grown roughly nine-fold over the last ten years. Given what has happened just in the last year, in terms of the agreements that have been signed, it’s not unreasonable to think it could grow quite substantially in the next year, if Pakistan grants India MFN status, for example. So there’s a huge amount of headroom that will benefit both countries, but I think particularly Pakistan because it has quite a lot of economic challenges right now. So this is a wonderful way for them to benefit from the Indian economy success story, to provide employment to young Pakistanis as an alternative to violent extremism. So we very much welcome this.
Q: And lastly, still on the trade front, there were a lot of protests on the FDI issue in India. Did that concern the United States? Are you concerned that even as parts of the government support opening up parts of retail sectors that have previously been off-limits to America there is still a backlash against it?
A: Obviously it is up to the Indian government to manage the domestic political aspects of this. The United States welcomed this as a very important step. I’m encouraged to see Wal-Mart has already announced its plan to open not only a multi-brand store, but also more single-brand retail stores. I think that is a very concrete signal of the strong support in our private sector for the steps that have been taken. It’s also important to mention the progress on aviation, the steps that have been taken on economic reform front, raising diesel prices. All this sends a very strong signal that the government intends to raise economic growth and raise opportunities for American and other foreign companies. Both of those are very welcome signals, and I think you’ve seen that already reflected in the market response to these actions.
Q: Thank you so much for your time.
A: Thank you, nice to see you again.