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Pak will accept Indian offer but problem on agenda: US think tank

Terming it as a breakthrough in Indo-Pak relationship, a US-based strategic think tank has said that New Delhi's offer to have Foreign Secretary-level talks with Islamabad is driven by India's concerns over Taliban appeasement in Afghanistan.

world Updated: Feb 05, 2010 09:44 IST

Terming it as a breakthrough in Indo-Pak relationship, a US-based strategic think tank has said that New Delhi's offer to have Foreign Secretary-level talks with Islamabad is driven by India's concerns over Taliban appeasement in Afghanistan.

"Though little progress has been made in India's efforts to get Islamabad to crack down on India-focused militants operating on Pakistani soil, India's concerns over Taliban appeasement in Afghanistan are driving New Delhi toward engagement with Islamabad," said Stratfor, which provides strategic intelligence on security and geopolitical affairs.

"India knows the only way it can edge into the Afghanistan dialogue and hope to influence the Taliban negotiations is to first reopen a diplomatic channel with Pakistan," it said in its news analysis on India’s offer of talks with Islamabad.

Stratfor said India demonstrated its openness to cooperate on the issue when Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna said on January 30 that India is willing to give negotiations with the Taliban a try.

Krishna even went so far as to say that India could be "quite satisfied" even if Pakistan took a "few steps" in cooperation with the Mumbai attacks investigation, it said.

"Pakistan will likely accept the Indian offer to talk, but problems will arise when it comes time to set the agenda. India will want to talk about Pakistani-sponsored militancy and Taliban negotiations. Pakistan will want to talk about everything else. It will be up to the United States to attempt to bridge this difficult gap," it said.

Stratfor said United States and Pakistan are showing signs of realigning their views on how to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The US needs results in this war on a short timeline, and is finding that it must work with Pakistan if it wants to see progress in negotiations with the Taliban.

As a result, the United States also must face the unpalatable political prospect of opening a dialogue with high-level militant commanders like Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Omar, it noted.

"These developments are causing concern to New Delhi," Stratfor said adding that India remembers well the security problems it faced while the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1994 to 2001, including a 1999 hijacking of an Indian airliner by Pakistani militants who forced the aircraft to land in Kandahar with the cooperation of the Taliban regime.

"India is fearful of any US-Pakistani designs for Taliban appeasement in Afghanistan that would allow the militant group substantial political space to operate.

For this reason, India also is increasing diplomatic contacts with Iran, which shares New Delhi’s fears of a political comeback for the Taliban in Afghanistan," it said.

Stratfor noted that Pakistan in recent months has voiced increasing concerns over Indian involvement in Afghanistan.

Though India has primarily focused its efforts in Afghanistan on political and economic reconstruction, Islamabad has a deep-seated fear that New Delhi is creating a foothold in Afghanistan to the west to encircle Pakistan.

Fuelling these fears in Islamabad are the United States’ moves to deepen its relationship with India.

"Rumours have been circulating since US Defense Secretary Robert Gates visit to India on January 20 that the United States is discussing with New Delhi the prospect of Indian security forces helping the Afghan national police and army," it said.

"Though there have been no concrete moves on this front, the prospect of India playing a direct security role in Afghanistan represents a redline for Pakistan.

And Islamabad has made this clear to Washington in routinely opposing any Indian role in Afghanistan," it said.

While US officials have long been pushing both sides to resume dialogue, India has resisted, claiming that little has been done by Islamabad to crack down on India-focused militant groups, most notably Lashkar-e-Taiba, that are operating on Pakistani soil under the nose of the Pakistan’s security apparatus, Stratfor said.

"However, India recently has decided to shift to a new approach with Pakistan — one in which New Delhi will insist that this renewed engagement first centre on the issue of terrorism.

Pakistan can be expected to continue skirting around this issue, as it already is struggling to rein in former militant proxies while neutralising those that have turned against the state, it said.

"Judging from the Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman’s February 4 remarks calling for a wide-ranging dialogue, rather than the focused approach India is advocating, these talks appear to be headed for a shaky start," Stratfor said.