US fears terrorists might provoke Indo-Pak conflict
WASHINGTON: US Defence Secretary Robert Gates worries about the future of Pakistan, fearing that terrorist groups might try to provoke a conflict between India and Pakistan to destabilise the country.
“I worry a lot about Pakistan. It has huge economic problems… They have a serious internal terrorism threat that is seeking to destabilise Pakistan itself,” he said at a hearing of a Senate committee Thursday.
“And I worry that some of those terrorists might try and provoke a conflict between Pakistan and India,” Gates said adding, “I think that there’s a lot to be concerned about with Pakistan.”
Noting that terrorist sanctuaries still exist in Pakistan, Gates praised Islamabad for moving troops from its border with India towards the Afghanistan border.
“The Pakistanis have 140,000 troops on that border. These things improve step by step, not as quickly as we would like, but we get to a better place over time,” he said.
“If you’d asked me two years ago if the Pakistanis would withdraw six divisions from the Indian border and put them in the west, I would have said impossible.
“If you would have asked me if we would begin coordinating operations on both sides of the border with Afghan and ISAF forces on the one side, and the Pakistanis on the other, I would have said that’s very unlikely,” he noted.
“They are chipping away at some of these sanctuaries. It’s very important what they’ve done in South Waziristan and Swat. But it’s a mixed picture and it’s something we just need to keep working at it,” Gates said.
Meanwhile, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, suggested that Washington should take steps to ensure better ties between India and Pakistan to ease the environment of mistrust and animosity between the neighbouring countries.
“In terms of our broader engagement with Pakistan and the region, reducing some of the long-standing enmity and mistrust between India and Pakistan would greatly contribute to our efforts,” Mullen told the House Armed Services Committee.
Mullen said the United States recognized the sovereign rights of both India and Pakistan and was not in favour of dictating foreign policies.
But being a responsible superpower, it was Washington’s duty to build a long-term “partnership with each, and offer our help to improve confidence and understanding between them in a manner that builds long-term stability across the wider region of South Asia,” he said.