US acknowledges India's role in inking of key Af-Pak agreement

Special US Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke said the US is grateful to India for the key role played by it, in the absence of which Afghanistan and Pakistan would not have been able the sign the agreement in this regard in Kabul a day earlier.

"I'm very grateful to the Indian government for not interposing any objections to this bilateral trade treaty," Holbrooke told reporters at a special State Department briefing. The Transit Trade Agreement, signed in Kabul yesterday by the commerce ministers of the two neighbouring nations, according to Holbrooke is the most important deal between Pakistan and Afghanistan since Pakistan's independence.

"It is more than a trade agreement; it is a political breakthrough as well, and it represents a move in the direction of one of the most critical goals that we have in that region, which is a closer relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan," he said.

"The 1965 agreement between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan did not have adequate implementation machinery and never really got going. The attempt to negotiate a trilateral trade agreement was not going to work in the current environment," Holbrooke said giving an insight into the process in which he was closely involved.

"We recommended to all three countries that Pakistan and Afghanistan have a bilateral negotiation with a clear understanding, which is written into the agreement, that if at any time India and Pakistan begin to work together towards their own trade agreements that Afghanistan will be able to enter those on an equal basis," he said.

"The clause is called the National Treatment Clause. Some Americans would call it Most Favored Nation, but National Treatment is what it's now called. And that was very key and I'm very grateful to the Indian Government for not interposing any objections to this bilateral trade treaty and we hope that the Indians and Pakistan will find a way to join it at their own pace. But we will leave that to New Delhi and Islamabad to work on,"
Holbrooke said.

The top US official said the Indians were fully informed on this. "I went to New Delhi, I talked to my friends in the foreign ministry and in the prime minister’s office, and again, just to repeat, I’m very grateful to the Indians for not interjecting any concerns on this," Holbrooke said.

"The agreement was announced on July 19th in Islamabad during the trip that Secretary (of State, Hillary) Clinton made to lead the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue. And now both governments had ratified it, and the ceremony was held to coincide with the ROC Drill, partially in recognition of the fact that the US had played such a leadership role," he said.

"The decision to negotiate to completion the trade agreement was announced at the White House by President Obama on May 7th of last year. The negotiation had been going on for 44 years without success.

With American intermediation, support to both sides, an agreement was reached and initialed on July 19th, and yesterday it was signed in Kabul," Holbrooke said.

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