'Lashkar is as dangerous as Taliban, Al Qaeda'
The United States on Thursday said that the Lashkar-e-Tayiba was as dangerous as Taliban and Al Qaeda with which it was working in close coordination and that Pakistan has been asked to deny it a foothold in that country.
US Special Envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke also emphasised the urgent need for bringing to justice the perpetrators of Mumbai attacks, saying Pakistan has taken "some steps" in this regard but these were not enough.
Holbrooke, who met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on Wednesday evening to give his assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, said India has a "vitally important role" to play in the peace and stability in that country and insisted that the US was not trying to "diminish" that scope.
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Image: Richard Holbrooke with US President Barack Obama
LeT's goal is to create problems between India, Pak
At the same time, he emphasised that Afghanistan cannot be stabilised without the participation of Pakistan, which has "legitimate concerns" in that country.
In an interaction with a group of journalists in New Delhi, he said the LeT's goal was to create "maximum problems" between India and Pakistan besides working against the interests of western countries.
"When we talk about major terrorist groups we consider it as dangerous as other groups," Holbrooke said when suggested that the US did not appear to be keen on tackling LeT on the same lines as Taliban and Al Qaeda.
"We understand, as government, that it (LeT) is a threat and we talk about it all the time with Pakistani military (asking them) to deny their territory to this organisation," said Holbrooke, who arrived in New Delhi on Wednesday after a visit to Islamabad.
'Taliban has almost become a brand'
The Special Envoy said, "We all know what it (LeT) did and what they want to do."
He identified LeT as a part of terror conglomerate comprising Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Taliban and Haqqani network. "Taliban has almost become a brand," he observed.
"Under intense pressure these groups seem to be growing closer to each other. Two or three years ago, they were more distinct than now," Holbrooke said.
He said these groups work more closely and help each other as their long-term objective is similar -- to hurt western ideologies and create "maximum problems between India and Pakistan.
"Tackling it (LeT) is equal to any other priority in the region," he said.
India is the loop on Afghanistan
To a question on Mumbai attacks, he said Pakistan has taken "some steps but these are not enough". He said the US was talking "frankly" to Pakistan on such issues.
Holbrooke, who attended the Kabul Conference on Tuesday, said the US recognises that Afghanistan's "neighbours and near neighbours have genuine security concerns" in that country and "that includes definitely India."
To a question about worries here that India's stakes and role were not being appreciated by the US, he insisted that "nobody wants to diminish India in Afghanistan."
The US Envoy, who also met National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, said "India has a vitally important role to play" in Afghanistan.
He, however, refused to define that role saying it was for the Indian leadership to do so.
At the same time, he added that there was no "zero sum game" between India and Pakistan.
'Pak is not going to take over Afghanistan'
He sought to allay apprehensions in New Delhi that Pakistan would be taking control of Afghanistan after the US-led forces leave the country.
"Pakistan is not going to take over Afghanistan nor is Taliban. But every country in the region has to be part of the solution," he underlined.
But, he added, "You cannot stabilise (Afghanistan) without the participation of Pakistan, which has legitimate concerns."
Holbrooke said Taliban poses a "formidable threat to security and stability of Afghanistan and the region."
'Don't worry about US-Pakistan ties'
He also sought to allay New Delhi's concerns over the US' efforts to develop relations with Pakistan.
"Improved (US) relations with Pakistan is not bad for India and improved (US) relations with India is not bad for Pakistan," he said, while pointing out that he hears worries on this count every time he visits Islamabad or here (New Delhi)."
"The truth is that America has closer relations with India and closer relations with Pakistan than you two countries have with each other," he said.
He said the US firmly believes that its improved relations with Pakistan and India are in interest of both the countries. "So, that is the reason we have strategic dialogue, to improve relations with Pakistan."
New Pak-Afghan trade pact is a 'big step'
On the recent trade and transit pact signed between Afghanistan and Pakistan, he said it was the "most important" agreement reached in 50 years and was better than the 1965 pact between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, which was "outmoded and disregarded".
This agreement does not include India but it does allow Afghan trucks to come up to Wagah crossing on Indian border and offload goods directly to Indian trucks, he said, terming this as a "big step" for Afghan-India relations.
"I hope it is just the beginning of more such steps," he said.