America's defense secretary is warning that al-Qaida, and what he calls its "syndicate" in South Asia, could provoke a new war between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, visiting India, is delivering a bleak assessment of the security situation in what he calls the "very dangerous region." Speaking to reporters in the Indian capital, he warned a syndication of terrorist groups under the al-Qaida umbrella - benefiting from the successes of each other - intends to destabilize the region with further attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
In his meetings with Indian government leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Gates praised New Delhi's statesmanship and restraint following the Mumbai attack, which is blamed on Pakistani-based insurgents. But the defense chief is cautioning that such restraint cannot be expected again, if India suffers a similar assault.
"I think it's not unreasonable to assume that Indian patience would be limited were there to be further attacks," he said.
The November 2008 attack on India's commercial capital, blamed on Lashkar-e-Taiba, killed more than 160 people.
Gates was asked by reporters whether the United States favors India sending troops to Afghanistan to assist the multi-national coalition battling insurgents there.
"Let's be honest with one another here. There are real suspicions in both India and Pakistan about what the other is doing in Afghanistan," he said.
Gates is requesting both New Delhi and Islamabad to be "fully transparent" with each other about their activities in Afghanistan to allay suspicions, adding they should focus on development aid, humanitarian assistance and training in limited areas.
Gates, who was appointed by then President George W. Bush in late 2006, has not made a visit to India as part of the Obama Cabinet until now. During the Bush era, defense cooperation between India and the United States warmed to an unprecedented degree, which the Pentagon is looking to further expand under the present administration.
Gates told reporters that, in his meetings with Prime Minister Singh, as well as India's external affairs and defense ministers, they discussed the military build-up by China, with which India shares a still-disputed border.
American and Indian defense officials say they agree that there should be greater engagement with Beijing, to prevent misunderstandings and potential miscalculations.