September 17, 2011

US vows to work closely with India against terror

Friday, 16 September 2011 22:35
S Rajagopalan | Washington

Acknowledging that India bears the brunt of terrorist attacks, the United States has vowed to work closely with New Delhi in the battle against terrorism.
A State Department spokesman called the just-designated Indian Mujahideen “a very lethal terrorist group” operating in India, stressing the group’s nexus with Pakistani cohorts such as Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Harkat u-Jihad-i-Islami.

“They are a very lethal terrorist group in their own right in India. They have carried out a number of attacks within India’s borders on innocent civilians, and although not confirmed, there’s a suspicion that they were responsible for the recent bombings in Mumbai on July 13,” spokesman Mark Toner said.

Stating that US has “a robust strategic dialogue with India”, he said: “They’re a close ally and partner. One of the elements of that is close counter-terrorism cooperation.”

Asked precisely how the designation of IM as a foreign terrorist outfit will help in the war against terror, he said: “We’re going to continue to work closely with likeminded nations, such as India. Frankly, India bears the brunt of these terrorist attacks.”

Some independent experts, however, believe that the US-India counter-terrorism cooperation has a long way to go.

While it has “rhetorically” become an important area of collaboration, some key challenges still remain, says Sahibzada Amer Latif, Visiting Fellow, Wadhwani Chair in US-India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

At a Congressional hearing on US-India counter-terrorism cooperation, Latif said one of the biggest challenges is “getting the American and Indian bureaucracies optimally aligned to facilitate better communication and coordination”.

A former director for South Asian affairs in the Pentagon Office of the Undersecretary of Defence for Policy, Latif said another major challenge is how each side views the terrorist threat. “While both sides agree the scourge of terrorism needs to be addressed, there are concerns in New Delhi about Washington’s relationship with Pakistan. For India, Pakistan represents the epicenter of the terror threat, and Indian officials are frustrated that Washington does not push the Army leadership in Rawalpindi more aggressively to dismantle LeT’s infrastructure.”
“The US on the other hand, has been occupied with trying to get the Pakistan Army to sustain current operations in FATA while undertaking new ones in North Waziristan. For Washington, asking Rawalpindi to also aggressively pursue the dismantling of LeT as vigorously as militants in the FATA could stretch Pakistani capacity and detract from Washington’s primary aim of disrupting Al Qaeda (AQ) and the Afghan Taliban in the FATA.

According to Latif, the current state of US-Pakistan relations in the wake of the Raymond Davis case and the killing of Osama bin Laden further limits how much pressure Washington can apply to Rawalpindi to dismantle LeT.

“While Washington realizes the danger that LeT poses to regional stability and has been vocal about bringing the Mumbai attackers to justice, it still does not meet Indian expectations of placing it on an equal plane with AQ and the Afghan Taliban,” he noted.

He also referred to Indian doubts about US commitment to bilateral counter-terrorism cooperation as seen in the David Headley case in which “India’s doubts about US transparency were compounded when Indian queries to question Headley were not immediately granted”.

“Among some segments of Indian government officials and its strategic elite, there may be a lingering perception that Washington will not divulge information that could possibly compromise its relations with Pakistan,” Latif commented.
He, however, stressed that the strategic stakes being too high for both sides, the efforts to step up US-India counter-terrorism cooperation should not be allowed to lag.

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