NEW DELHI, (Reuters) – India has a legitimate role to play in stabilising Afghanistan but peace can not be brought to the region without help from its nuclear-armed rival Pakistan, U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke said Thursday.
Successfully balancing the competing interests of the two countries, who have been jockeying for influence in Afghanistan for years, has been a challenge for the United States, but both are seen key to improving the region’s security outlook.
India fears an Afghan plan endorsed by global powers this year to win over Taliban foot soldiers will give rival Pakistan, which holds sway over the militants, a greater say in the Afghan peace process and may ultimately lead to a Taliban takeover once Western forces leave Afghanistan.
But Holbrooke, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said Washington recognized India’s “central role” in the region, adding it was wrong to see increased U.S. interaction with Pakistan as an indicator of a diminishing Indian role.
“There is an implication that there is zero-sum game here, that if we increase our interactions with Pakistan we are somehow diminishing India,” he told reporters during a visit to Delhi.
“I can’t even imagine why anyone would think that India is being diminished if we improve relations with Pakistan. That’s in India’s interests.”
INDIAN ROLE ALSO KEY
Holbrooke’s visit comes two days after Afghan President Hamid Karzai and several world leaders agreed that Afghan forces should be leading security operations by 2014. The United States plans to withdraw its troops from there starting next year
Six decades of India and Pakistan rivalry has turned Afghanistan, seen as key to their security and trade, into a proxy battleground, complicating efforts to stabilise it.
Many Indian analysts and officials believe Washington is biased towards helping Pakistan — an ally in its anti-terrorism drive and a key partner in stabilising Afghanistan — rather than India, which only recently moved closer to the United States.
Holbrooke indicated that it would be hard to ignore the influence Pakistan would have on any resolution of the Afghan war because of its influence over the Taliban leadership, but that it was not the only country involved.
“We have repeatedly acknowledged and stressed that India has an important role to play. Our goal is to have full transparency with India on what’s going on in Afghanistan,” he said.
India seeks to retain influence in Afghanistan to deter any anti-India militant training camps there — which it accuses rival Pakistan of backing — and to counter any broad militant Islamist surge threatening regional security.
Holbrooke’s visit comes days after peace talks between India and Pakistan failed to make progress over Pakistani action against militants accused of planning the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
India blames Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) for the attacks, a group New Delhi says is backed by Islamabad. India also says Washington has not pushed Pakistan to crack down on LeT, a charge Holbrooke denied.
“When we talk about major terrorist groups we consider them as dangerous as the other groups,” he said.
“It is a co-equal threat and we talk about it all the time with the Pakistani military,” he said.