Advocating a regional approach to Afghanistan, the US defence chief has said that India has an important role to play there despite historic tensions with Pakistan accentuated by Mumbai terror attacks.
In "Afghanistan, a regional approach is critical. And it includes not just Afghanistan, but Afghanistan and Pakistan," Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff said Tuesday at a media briefing on US National Security Strategy.
"I also believe that India plays an important role here," he said at his first media interaction after the Jan 20 inauguration of President Barack Obama. "India has taken significantly positive steps to invest in Afghanistan, has for some period of time," he noted.
"And certainly Iran, as a bordering state, plays a role as well," said Mullen suggesting "it is important to engage Iran" in a dialogue "that finds some mutual interests, there is potential there for moving ahead together."
"But I really leave that to the diplomats to lead with that dialogue."
Asked if Pakistan is concerned about India's expanding role in Afghanistan, Mullen said: "When I talk about a regional approach, I include Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran as well as India.
"And I think the regional countries in there have a very significant stake in stability and in outcomes which are positive, in that region, as opposed to those that might go in the other direction."
"So I think the strategic leadership and views, opinions and support provided, by India, will be very clear," Mullen said noting, "India has taken significantly positive steps to invest in Afghanistan, has for some period of time."
"And yet there's certainly a historic tension that's there, between Pakistan and India, obviously accentuated greatly as a result of the Mumbai attacks," Mullen said.
But he was comforted that the strategic leadership, in both Pakistan and India, has been such that any kind of conflict did not break after Mumbai attacks, blamed on Pakistan-based terror group, Lashkar-e-Taiba.
And I think continuing in that direction, in the future, is very important, as we resolve that particular-the Mumbai attacks, I think, properly as opposed to getting in any kind of conflict.
So each country has got significant stakes in the region. And I think it's the joint contribution of all those countries, which would help us move- which could help us move forward in a positive way.
In reply to a question about military-to-military relationship with Pakistan, Mullen said he had "a very strong relationship" with Pakistan army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, as also Admiral Sureesh Mehta, chairman of India's Chiefs of Staff Committee.
"So my relations are not just limited to Pakistan," he said adding, Kayani has "got some huge challenges, as does Admiral Mehta in India. I mean, we all have huge challenges."