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US urges India, Pakistan to hold direct talks

Washington: The US State Department has refused to comment on Pakistan cancelling an earlier decision to import sugar and cotton from India but did ask the two neighbours to hold direct talks to normalise relations.

“I wouldn’t want to comment on that specifically. What I would say is that we continue to support direct dialogue between India and Pakistan on issues of concern,” said the department’s spokesperson Ned Price when asked what Washington thought of this development.

On March 31, the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) announced in Islamabad that it was allowing the private sector to import 0.5 million tons of white sugar from India. The committee also approved another proposal to import cotton from India starting June this year.

But on April 1, the federal cabinet deferred the ECC’s decision to allow imports from India until New Delhi reinstates Article 370 of its Constitution, which guaranteed a semi-autonomous status for India-held Kashmir.

Pakistan suspended bilateral trade with India in August 2019 when New Delhi announced its decision to change Kashmir’s status.

The now defunct decision to resume trade with India had followed an agreement between Islamabad and New Delhi to observe a ceasefire on the Line of Control after months of tensions. The move had rekindled hopes that the two nuclear-armed neighbours would start taking baby steps towards normalising relations.

In 2018-19, India and Pakistan traded only $494.87 million worth of goods and that too mostly favoured India.

At the State Department briefing on Tuesday, Mr Price also reiterated the Biden administration’s desire to end America’s military presence in Afghanistan but did not say if Washington will meet the May 1 deadline.

The Trump administration had signed an agreement with the Taliban which required Washington to withdraw its troops by May 1. The Biden administration recognises the agreement but seems reluctant to meet the deadline.

“We are committed to bringing a responsible end to the conflict, removing our troops from harm’s way” but not without “ensuring that Afghanistan can never again become a platform, a launch pad, for terrorist attacks that would threaten the United States or our allies,” Mr Price said. Dawn

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