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US admits ISI-Taliban link, allays India's Afghan worries

By The Assam Tribune

NEW DELHI, July 22 (IANS) - Days after India-Pakistan talks broke down on the issue of terror, the US Thursday pointed out links between the Taliban and Pakistani spy agency ISI and assured India that its role in Afghanistan was "not being diminished" to the advantage of Islamabad.

Lauding New Delhi's role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke also pitched for better relations between India and Pakistan and stressed that improving relations of the US with Islamabad were in New Delhi's interests.

Although Holbrooke did not spell out what gave Pakistan a leverage over the evolving power equations in Afghanistan, he spoke about the links between Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Taliban, a nexus highlighted by New Delhi many a time.

"The links between the ISI and the Taliban are a problem. US has spoken to the Pakistan government and the military on ISI's links with the Taliban," he told reporters in an interaction here.

He spoke about a growing coordination among terror groups in the region, a point also made by National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon at a seminar on terrorism in South Asia when he highlighted the links between the intelligence agencies and terror groups in the region.

"Their long-term objective is to destroy the Western civilisation and to create crisis between New Delhi and Islamabad," Holbrooke said when asked about the Pakistan-backed Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based militant group that allegedly plotted and executed the 2008 Mumbai carnage.

"LeT is co-equal threat along with Al Qaeda. The LeT, Al Qaeda and Taliban are all working closer together than ever before," he said, ruling out any reconciliation with the terrorist groups.

While acknowledging Pakistan's crucial role in the evolving situation in Afghanistan, Holbrooke said it did not detract from India's contribution in reconstruction of that country.

"India role in Afghanistan is not being diminished. It's not a zero sum game," he told reporters here when asked about India's concerns on the contentious proposal for reconciliation with the Taliban and Pakistan's growing role in the process.

"It is for India to decide what it wants its role to be in Afghanistan. US will back any efforts for better relations between India and Pakistan," Holbrooke, who flew in here from Kabul Wednesday on a two-day visit, said.

India pitched for "an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned" peace and reintegration process in Afghanistan at the Kabul conference Tuesday and reminded the world of the need for this process to be "inclusive and transparent".

Holbrooke assured that neither Pakistan nor the Taliban are going to take over Afghanistan.

"You can't stabilise Afghanistan without Pakistan's support as a concerned, legitimate partner," he said, but added in the same breath: "India has a major role to play in stability in the region and in search for solutions in Afghanistan."

Referring to the meeting between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and External Affairs Minister SM Krishna in Kabul two days ago, Holbrooke said Clinton conveyed the need for India to improve relations with Pakistan.

The envoy tried to assuage concerns in India about the growing relationship of the US with Pakistan in the wake of the Taliban reintegration and reconciliation plan in Afghanistan.

"Our goal is to improve relations with Pakistan," he said.

"The truth is that the US has better relations with India and Pakistan than the two countries have with each other. It's in the interest of both countries."

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