Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake underscored shared interests and dimensions of cooperation between the United States and India in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including action against terror networks in the former and development projects in the latter.

Addressing media at the Foreign Press Center here Mr. Blake said that counter-terrorism was the U.S.’ “highest priority” and the one area in which the U.S. had “made the greatest progress in terms of our cooperation with India — in terms of not only law enforcement cooperation but also intelligence cooperation”. He added that the U.S. would never be soft on terrorism.

Terror syndicates threat to India, Pak

Mr. Blake further noted, “We take extremely seriously the threats against both of our countries because we believe increasingly that there is a syndicate that is operating in countries like Pakistan that threatens both of our countries.” This syndicate of terror networks also threatens Pakistan itself, he added.

Mr. Blake emphasised that the U.S. had been at “the forefront of countries urging Pakistan to not only continue the progress it has been making in Swat and South Waziristan, but also to address the problem in the Punjab, namely the Punjab-based groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, that are operating against India, that have also targeted the U.S., in the Mumbai bombings and elsewhere.”

Speaking at a televised discussion with Teresita Schaffer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Mr. Blake further noted that the U.S. was aware of India’s concern regarding the possibility of U.S. aid to Pakistan being diverted to use against India. He said, “I think [India understands] that we are trying to build up Pakistan’s counter-insurgency capabilities and we are seeking end use assurances to insure that… the weapons that are provided will not be used against India.”

During the discussion with Ms. Shaffer, Mr. Blake also announced that the U.S. and India would engage in joint projects in Afghanistan. On India’s work in Afghanistan he said, “We have welcomed the very important role India has played so far. It is really up to India to decide where it wants to take its cooperation but we commend the steps it has taken so far and we had a discussion on ways that we might be able to cooperate together.” He added that such joint projects may be a promising new area of cooperation between the two countries.

Mr. Blake’s comments came shortly after External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna firmly underscored India’s intention to continue its work in Afghanistan despite its mission there coming under attack from insurgents. India’s approach to Afghanistan has been the subject of recent discussion in policy circles, with some analysts such as Raja Karthikeya of the non-partisan India Research Group think tank arguing that “India enjoys tremendous soft power in Afghanistan but the challenge lies in converting that soft power into influence”.