India: Al-Qaeda ‘may provoke conflict with Pakistan’

New Delhi, 20 Jan. (AKI) – Pakistan and India need to work together to combat the threat from Al-Qaeda in the South Asia region, US defence secretary Robert Gates said on Wednesday. Speaking on a visit to India, Gates drew a link between militants on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border with Lashkar-e-Toiba militants blamed for the 2008 terror attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai.

He said both groups worked under the umbrella of Al-Qaeda and could potentially provoke a major conflict between India and Pakistan through a provocative act.

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

Gates cited three main groups operating under Al-Qaeda’s “umbrella”: Taliban forces in Afghanistan, Taliban militants targeting the Pakistani government and the Islamist group Lashkar-e-Toiba based in Pakistan with a focus on India.

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

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

Gates described India as a crucial partner in the struggle against militant threats and expressed appreciation for its economic aid to Afghanistan.

He said he discussed how to bolster US-India military cooperation.