The United States on Wednesday cautioned that the “syndicate of terror” operating in Afghanistan-Pakistan is a threat that intends to provoke an India-Pakistan conflict and destabilise the region.

Washington also made it clear that India’s restraint and “statesmanship” after the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008 was “limited” if such an event recurs.

“India responded with statesmanship…It is not unreasonable to assume India’s patience will be limited, if it [Mumbai-type terror attacks] were to happen again,” visiting U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates said at a press conference after meetings with leaders here.

Dr. Gates said the terror syndicate was trying to destabilise the region and it was for each country to understand its magnitude, engage to reduce and eliminate the threats posed by it with high degrees of cooperation.

Expanding the characterisation of the syndicate, he said while the al-Qaeda was primarily in safe havens in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the Taliban was active in Afghanistan and the Tehreek-e-Taliban targeted Pakistan. The Lashkar-e-Taiba focussed on both India and Pakistan to trigger a conflict.

“It is a very complicated situation. It is dangerous for the region as a whole. They are a syndicate of terror operating with the intention of destabilising the whole region,” he said. The success of any one group led to new capabilities and new reputation for all, he pointed out and felt targeting one group would not eliminate the threat.

Praising India’s “extraordinary” support to Afghanistan, with New Delhi committing $ 1.3 billion as developmental assistance, Dr. Gates talked of suspicion both in India and Pakistan as to what the other was doing there.

India was focussed on development, humanitarian assistance and providing limited training [to the Afghan police]. However, if it was done with full transparency, it would help allay these suspicions and create an opportunity for the Afghanistan government.

Dr. Gates said that at his meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and Defence Minister A.K. Antony, both sides shared each other’s perception of the regional and global security, including China.

While the discussion on China was generic in nature, both sides talked about Beijing’s military modernisation plan and its intention. In the same breath, Dr. Gates said, Washington preferred to engage more with China to avoid any miscalculations.

He also stressed the need for closer cooperation in areas such as maritime, cyberspace and space.

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