Page last updated at 14:02 GMT, Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Al-Qaeda wants South Asia war, says US secretary Gates

Mr Gates was forthright in his warnings about the al-Qaeda threat

Al-Qaeda is trying to destabilise the whole of South Asia hoping to provoke war between India and Pakistan, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates says.

"It's important to recognise the magnitude of the threat," Mr Gates said, after meeting his Indian counterpart AK Antony in Delhi.

Mr Gates said India might not show restraint if it suffered another attack like the one in 2008 on Mumbai.

Blamed on Pakistan-based militants, the attack killed more than 160 people.

The two countries' peace process is still on hold.

The US defence secretary said militant groups in South Asia - the Taliban in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, and the Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba - were seeking to spark conflict between India and Pakistan, or to provoke instability in Pakistan.

It is not unreasonable to assume that Indian patience would be limited were there another attack
Robert Gates,
US defence secretary

He said: "It's dangerous to single out any one of these groups and say, 'If we can beat that group, that will solve the problem,' because they are in effect a syndicate of terrorist operators intended to destabilise this entire region."

When one group succeeded in carrying out an attack, all of them gained in capability and reputation, he said.

"A victory for one is a victory for all."

Mr Gates praised his hosts for the restraint shown by India in the aftermath of the attack on Mumbai (Bombay) in November 2008, for which Lashkar-e-Taiba militants operating out of Pakistan have been blamed.

But he warned: "It is not unreasonable to assume Indian patience would be limited were there another attack."

After militants attacked parliament in Delhi in 2001, India massed troops on the border with Pakistan, but the country made no such move following the 2008 attack.

Taj Mahal hotel on fire - 27?11/2008
The Mumbai attacks created new tension between India and Pakistan

The two countries have fought three wars since independence from Britain.

The BBC's Chris Morris, in Delhi, says the US would like to see India and Pakistan working together against the militant threat - but Mr Gates said co-operation would be a tough sell.

Mr Gates is to hold talks in Islamabad on Thursday.

He said any conflict between India and Pakistan would only further the militants' agenda - as well as throwing American policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan into disarray.

The defence secretary also praised the "extraordinary" financial aid India had given Afghanistan, but acknowledged this had created tension with Pakistan.

"There are real suspicions both in India and Pakistan about what the other is doing in Afghanistan," he said.

"So I think each country focusing its efforts on development, on humanitarian assistance, perhaps in some limited areas of training, but with full transparency for each other, would help allay these suspicions and frankly create opportunities."

Reports in recent days have suggested the US would like India to help train Afghan police.

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