NEW DELHI—President Barack Obama appealed Sunday for India and Pakistan to resolve their conflict through dialogue, saying that regional instability will only serve to distract India in its rise as a global economic power.
Answering questions at a town hall meeting at St. Xavier College in Mumbai, Obama expressed support for two strong U.S. allies that see each other as archrivals.
Pakistan is an important partner in the U.S. war in Afghanistan, while Obama has called India a vital economic partner and expressed hopes its roaring economy can help create jobs back in the United States.
But mainly Hindu India and largely Muslim Pakistan—both of which developed nuclear weapons as a deterrent against the other—have fought three wars with each other since they gained independence from Britain in 1947 and they remain deeply suspicious of each other’s motives.
Indian officials have accused Pakistan’s spy agency of helping orchestrate the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, while Pakistan sees Indian ties to Afghanistan as an attempt to encircle it.
But with Pakistan reeling from extremist attacks, Obama said India had the biggest stake in seeing Pakistan succeed, stabilize and prosper.
“It is absolutely in your interests, at a time when you’re starting to succeed in incredible ways on the global economic stage, that you (don’t) want the distraction of security instability in your region,” he said. “So my hope is that over time trust develops between the two countries, that dialogue begins—perhaps on less controversial issues, building up to more controversial issues.”
India broke off talks with Pakistan after the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai. In recent months top foreign ministry officials from both nations have met repeatedly to try to break the ice, though India has ruled out restarting full-scale peace talks until the Pakistanis responsible for the attacks are punished.
Pakistani opposition politician Mushahid Hussain Sayed was quoted by the Press Trust of India as saying that Obama’s message supported Pakistan’s own call for resuming talks.
Obama also welcomed Indian investment in Afghanistan, saying all the countries in the region are going to need to help bring peace to Afghanistan.
“We don’t think we can do this alone,” he said.