The United States is worried that a terrorist attack in India could spark off a large-scale conflict with Pakistan, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken told The Indian Express on Tuesday. “It remains a matter of real concern. The only thing worse than an intentional conflict is an unintentional conflict where an incident sparks something and it spirals out of control,” he said.

The prospect of conflict, he said, “is one of the reasons why it is so important, in our judgment, that India and Pakistan find ways to communicate, to reduce tensions, and ultimately to find a more cooperative relationship”. His remarks come days after the NSAs met in Bangkok for talks, weeks after a planned summit in Delhi broke down amid India’s insistence that the Pakistani delegation not meet Hurriyat leaders and Kashmir is kept out of the agenda.

Blinken, a former lawyer and journalist who serves as Secretary of State John Kerry’s principal deputy, also underlined US concerns about nuclear-weapons environment in South Asia, noting that “questions of strategic stability matter to us, to India, to Pakistan, to the entire world. So it is important to be engaged with Pakistan on that basis as well”. In recent months, several experts have expressed fears over Pakistan’s fast-growing arsenal of tactical nuclear warheads — small, light weapons designed to be deployed in battlefield, which raise the prospect of accidental use in a conflict. Blinken said Pakistan had taken significant actions against terrorism, “in North Waziristan, in particular, and they have done it at some significant cost to themselves, most notably the horrific attack on a school that claimed lives of over 150 schoolchildren”.

In meetings with US officials, he added, “their leadership, including [army chief] Gen Raheel Sharif, has said terrorism is terrorism, no matter where it is coming from. That is an important statement, and one we are urging Pakistan to act on”. The US, he said, had “raised concerns about Lashkar-e-Taiba, also about Haqqani Network and the Pakistani Taliban.”

In reply to a question why the US had failed to take tougher action on Pakistan for not acting against these groups, he said, “I think it goes to the incredible complexity of the problem, and the challenge in dealing with it.” Headed to Islamabad Wednesday to attend the multinational Heart of Asia conference on Afghanistan, Blinken said, “the investment that has already been made needs to be sustained, because it sends a message to the Taliban that, if they have in their heads the idea that they can somehow wait out the government or security forces, they are wrong”. He said the US was not told by Pakistan’s intelligence that Taliban chief Mullah Muhammad Omar had died some years ago. In reply to a question on whether news of his demise was a surprise, he replied: “Yes, it was”.


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