WASHINGTON - Pakistan has indicated to the United States of its intention to providing the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India, but may do so after the May 2014 Indian elections, according to a senior US official.
"We have raised this with the government of Pakistan on several occasions and, indeed, with the government of India, specifically the grant of most favoured nations. It came up while (Pakistan) Prime Minister Sharif was here in Washington during a visit a month ago," Special US Representatives for Afghanistan and Pakistan James Dobbins told a Congressional hearing on Wednesday.
"The Pakistanis have indicated their intention is ... to grant MFN to India. The question is one of timing. We, of course, have urged it to be done as quickly as possible," he said in response to a question in the the House Foreign Affairs Committee. India gave MFN status to Pakistan in 1996.
"They didn't say so, but I think they may be waiting until a new Indian government takes office. They probably want to do this in the part of a context of other improvements in the relationship," he said.
"The Pakistani government under the new Prime Minister has reached out and tried to improve that relationship. The Indians for good historical reasons are approaching this very cautiously. They believe that the Prime Minister's acting in good faith, but they're a little skeptical he can deliver on some of the things that they need if the relationship is going to progress," Dobbins said.
"MFN for India would be a positive step and, indeed, a general opening of the border to more commerce would also be very helpful for Afghanistan as you've indicated and for all those reasons we continue to support it," he said.
Dobbins said the United States has been encouraging India and Pakistan to overcome their differences on Kashmir dispute and Afghanistan, while emphasizing that such a course would have a positive effect on Afghan stability.
"Improved relationships between India and Pakistan will have two effects on Afghanistan. One effect is it will greatly increase the access of Afghan trade to India via Pakistan," Dobbins said.
"But secondly and equally important, it will reduce the competition between the two countries for influence in Afghanistan in a way that's often proved highly destabilising. So we've been encouraging both both Pakistan and India to overcome their differences in Kashmir, their differences over Afghanistan."
Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Dobbins also recognised that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government has been trying to improve relations with India and Afghanistan. The Indians, he said, do recognise Sharif's desire for good relationship with India.
But the US envoy said, "In Pakistan traditionally, the security sphere has been left largely to the military and they've been largely free of civilian oversight or control. The last time Nawaz Sharif tried to exercise that kind of control, he was overthrown by Pervez Musharraf. So he has to be careful about how quickly he moves to assert civilian control of the military and a stronger civilian role in designing and implementing Pakistan's national security policy.
"They're (the Indians) a little skeptical that he will prevail in exercising enough influence over the Pakistani military and we'll just have to wait and see. But we give him a fair chance of being able to do so among other things because the Pakistani military now realise that their biggest threat is internal and they realize that they need the political leadership to take responsibility for the kinds of sometimes harsh measures that will be needed to deal with that internal threat."
In his testimony, Dobbins told lawmakers that the greatest contribution New Delhi and Islamabad could make towards Afghan stability is through improvement the two South Asian neighbours own bilateral relationship.
“To the extent -- probably the greatest contribution India could make and Pakistan can make in Afghanistan is improving their bilateral relationship,” Dobbins, who met visiting Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh in Washington this week.
Continuing, Dobbins noted that there is some hope with the new Pakistani government, towards improvement in Pakistan-India relations.