Washington: Expressing concern over the increasing influence of Pakistan-based terrorist outfits, especially Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), a top Pentagon official has said "violent extremism" is among the most pervasive and urgent challenges in South Asia.
"Violent extremism is associated with a wide-range of activities, which include supporting insurgencies that seek political autonomy and fomenting conflict between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan as a means of spreading radical Islamic ideology," the US Pacific Command Commander (USPACOM) Admiral Robert Willard, said in his testimony before House Armed Services Committee yesterday.
Willard said this "violent extremism is among the most pervasive and urgent challenges in South Asia”.
In South Asia, Willard said the US is endeavouring to work with Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives and the nation of India to contain Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistani-based extremist organisation that is already established in South Asia and was responsible for the attack in Mumbai.
"Consequently, USPACOM continues to expand its relationships with host-nation militaries and CT agencies to increase regional capacities to counter this threat," Willard said.
Responding to violent extremism requires a comprehensive and cooperative counter-terrorism strategy focused on developing counter-terrorism capacity with India and other South Asian partners, particularly regarding the threat posed by Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), he said.
"LeT involvement in the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai, India, validates India`s concerns regarding terrorist threats originating from outside India. Significantly, LeT deliberately targets westerners and specifically engages coalition forces in Afghanistan," Willard said.
"USPACOM is keenly aware of the threat posed by this terrorist organisation and continues to develop a coordinated multi-national and US inter-agency approach to address this global threat," he said adding that USPACOM force posture in South Asia is relatively limited, even though this sub-region is significant and faces various challenges.
Willard said the US has extensive interests throughout the rest of South Asia.
For the most part, US military engagement in South Asia is achieved with transient and deployed forces and PACOM Augmentation Teams (PATs); however, plans are underway to expand these teams to assist host nations in their counter-terrorism efforts.
USPACOM is working to advance relations with Maldives, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.
Collectively, these countries are important collaborators with the US for combating terrorism and transnational criminal activity. "South Asia is susceptible to natural disasters, but these nations lack the national resources and capacity to respond and therefore require significant assistance from the international community to respond to such contingencies. Toward that end, USPACOM is working with South Asian militaries to build capacity so that they may better address the challenges in their sub-region," he said.
The Pentagon official said USPACOM is helping Maldives address the growing threat from Somali piracy and transnational crime.
In Nepal, its focus is humanitarian assistance and efforts to support the peaceful integration of members of the Maoist People`s Liberation Army into the Nepalese security forces.
Bangladesh continues to partner with the US to enhance regional security, and USPACOM has initiated multiple programs to improve Bangladesh`s civil-military trust, transparency, and cooperation.
Engagement with Sri Lanka is limited to humanitarian assistance until allegations of human rights abuses are resolved, he said.