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Holbrooke's India visit to focus on Pakistan

world Updated: Feb 16, 2009 08:25 IST

Senior US diplomat Richard Holbrooke was set for talks with Indian leaders on Monday expected to focus on the global threat from Pakistan-based militants in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

Holbrooke, the new US envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, arrived late Sunday in New Delhi on a regional tour after visits to Islamabad and Kabul.

He was appointed to implement a new US strategy in South Asia under President Barack Obama, who plans to boost troop numbers in Afghanistan and to force Islamabad to eradicate Al-Qaeda safe havens inside Pakistan.

Holbrooke, a former ambassador to the United Nations, was to meet Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee and National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan.

"We will share our perceptions, and terrorism emanating from Pakistan will be part of that," an Indian official told AFP. "We think the Pakistan establishment is key when talking about terrorism."

India has labelled Pakistan the "epicentre of terrorism" in the region and has accused it of sheltering Islamic groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is widely blamed for November's attacks on Mumbai.

New Delhi has noted with strong approval that Holbrooke's tour coincided with Islamabad's admission that part of the Mumbai attacks, in which 165 people were killed, was indeed planned in Pakistan.

"Until the Mumbai attacks, the perception in Washington was that the US is fighting the global war against terror and that India was fighting a local war against terror," said Lalit Mansingh, former Indian ambassador to Washington.

"But that has changed. Now there is a better understanding that there is little difference between so-called global and local terror groups."

New Delhi is also likely to warn the US over military aid to the region.

Pakistan is seeking billions of dollars to combat the Islamist threat from its northwestern tribal belt that became a stronghold for extremists who fled Afghanistan after the Taliban fell in 2001.

Pakistani commanders say they need helicopters, drones and an array of new military equipment to tackle the Taliban fighters, but India is sceptical about their intentions.

"We have heard that Pakistan's wishlist for fighting terror includes precision-guided missiles. We have our doubts about whether Pakistan intends to use them to hunt down insurgents," said one diplomatic source.

Since partition in 1947, mutual suspicion has characterised ties between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan, who have fought two of their three wars over the Himalayan region of Kashmir.

According to reports, Islamabad told Holbrooke it would be better able to focus on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border if the issue of divided Kashmir was solved.

But India is determined that Kashmir remains "a bilateral issue" with Pakistan.

"We will make it clear that Kashmir is a symptom and not the cause of terrorism in the region," the source said.

Pakistan has been a vital US ally since former president George W. Bush invaded neighbouring Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime for sheltering Al-Qaeda after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

But relations have soured, not least after dozens of suspected US missile strikes against militants inside Pakistan.

Holbrooke will report back to Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after his Indian visit, which completes his tour, his first to the region in his new capacity.