US: al-Qaeda could provoke India-Pakistan conflict

Al-Qaeda is seeking to destabilise the entire South Asia region and could trigger a war between nuclear-armed Pakistan and India, United States Defence Secretary Robert Gates told reporters on Wednesday.

Groups under al-Qaeda’s “syndicate” in Afghanistan and Pakistan are trying “to destabilise not just Afghanistan, not just Pakistan, but potentially the whole region by provoking a conflict perhaps between India and Pakistan through some provocative act,” Gates said during a visit to New Delhi.

“It’s important to recognise the magnitude of the threat that the entire region faces,” he said following talks with his Indian counterpart, AK Antony.

Gates cited three main groups operating under al-Qaeda’s “umbrella”: the Taliban forces fighting in Afghanistan, Taliban elements targeting Pakistan’s government and the Islamist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in Pakistan focused on India.

Although he praised India for exercising restraint after the 2008 Mumbai attacks — which Delhi blamed on LeT — Gates suggested India could not be expected to remain restrained if it was attacked again.

“I think it’s not unreasonable to assume India’s patience would be limited were there to be further attacks,” he said.

The Mumbai assault left 166 dead and India has demanded Pakistan come under more international pressure to rein in militant groups on its soil.

Gates described India as a vital partner in the struggle against extremist threats, expressed appreciation for its economic aid to Afghanistan and said that he discussed how to bolster US-India military cooperation. — AFP

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