US worried Mumbai attacks may hit war in Afghanistan

By Manish Chand, IANS,

New Delhi : The rapid downslide in India-Pakistan relations in the wake of the Mumbai terror strikes has alarmed the US as it feels that any confrontation between the two nuclear-armed neighbours could ruin its hopes of defeating a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.

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The decision by US President George W. Bush to send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on a day-long visit to India Wednesday seems motivated primarily by American concerns about the impact of escalating tensions between India and Pakistan on the NATO-led campaign in Afghanistan.

US Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who lost to Barack Obama in the November election, also made an unscheduled stop in New Delhi Wednesday.

McCain made it clear that while the US was pledged to giving full cooperation to India to combat terrorism, it is also committed to preventing a conflict between India and Pakistan. New Delhi, which holds elements in Pakistan responsible for the Mumbai carnage, has served a demarche to Islamabad asking it to take strong action against terrorist groups operating in its territory.

In a message to New Delhi, McCain asked for “hard evidence” about Pakistan’s alleged complicity in the terror strikes amid speculation that India was considering various options.

Rice is expected to reinforce this message during her brief trip to India.

Pakistan has already sought to cash in on these anxieties by making it clear to Americans that any confrontation with India would force Islamabad to move its troops from its Afghan border to the Indian border.

Presently, there are more than 100,000 Pakistani troops on its border with Afghanistan and the US needs these troops to take on the Taliban in Afghanistan which has links with militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Any diversion of troops could seriously derail the US’ ambitions for defeating Taliban and its ally Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. It will also be a major blow to US president-elect Barack Obama’s plan for the region that revolves around focusing on the violence in Afghanistan.

Obama’s plan also includes getting India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir issue so that Islamabad is left with no excuse but to focus single-mindedly on Afghanistan.

No other terror strike in India has stirred American anxieties as much as the Nov 26 Mumbai terror strikes that killed 183 people, including six Americans among 22 foreigners.

The US is worried that the Mumbai attacks were not simply an assault on India but also on the West as terrorists specifically targeted Israelis in a Jewish centre and those carrying Western passports.

According to the US, the attacks bore the imprint of Al Qaeda acting in collaboration with Islamic extremists, diplomatic sources told IANS.

Bush was one of the first world leaders to call Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the Mumbai nightmare and express full support to India’s fight against terrorism. Obama quickly sprung into action and was in constant touch with the Bush administration, monitoring the Mumbai developments from Chicago.

The composite dialogue between India and Pakistan is already under severe strain. President Asif Ali Zardari’s rejection of India’s demand for handing over the 20 fugitives demanded by New Delhi is sure to provoke New Delhi, which has made it one of the key demands in its Dec 2 demarche.

India Tuesday indicated it was keeping all options open and underlined that it would take “appropriate action” to protect its territory from terror attacks emanating from Pakistan.

“What will be done, time will show and you will come to know,” External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has said.