Washington: Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), which was responsible for the Mumbai terrorist attack and other high-profile terrorist attacks in India over the past several years, remains one of the most potent terror group in South Asia, a top Pentagon commander has told lawmakers.
"Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) remains one, if not the most operationally capable terrorist groups through all of South Asia," Admiral Samuel Locklear, Commander of the US Pacific Command (PACOM), told lawmakers during a Congressional hearing on Tuesday.
"LeT was responsible for the November 2008 attack in Mumbai, India that killed over 160 people, including six Americans, and has supported or executed a number of other attacks in South Asia in recent years," he said.
Beyond the direct impact of these attacks, there is a significant danger that another major terrorist attack could destabilise the "fragile peace" between India and Pakistan, Locklear told the Senators days after a report released by a US Army said that LeT continues to recruit the best and the brightest in Pakistan and are focused on Kashmir.
"Should the perpetrators of such an attack be linked back to Pakistan - as was the case in the 2008 attack - the Indian government may face domestic pressure to respond and the resulting spiral of escalation could be rapid. For those reasons, and more importantly to protect innocent lives, we and our partners in the US Government engage regularly with the Indians and Pakistanis to avert such a crisis," he said in his prepared remarks.
India`s relationship with Pakistan has gradually improved in recent years, thanks to a series of confidence building measures, growing economic ties and the absence of large-scale destabilising incidents, the PACOM Commander said.
"However, we remain concerned that the progress could be quickly undone by a major terrorist attack," he said.
"Both sides maintain modern, trained militaries underpinned by demonstrated nuclear capabilities. A major war on the subcontinent is not likely, but could be catastrophic to both sides, as well as the region," Locklear said.
In addition, while India has seen its bilateral economic ties with China expanded in recent years, its unresolved border disputes with China have remained a source of friction, the US official said.
"We do not think war between India and China is inevitable or likely, but unresolved territorial issues and regional competition could fuel incidents," Locklear said.
"Elsewhere, South Asia is mostly free from direct conflict, but various, mostly internal, challenges remain. For instance, Bangladesh may struggle to contain political violence and turmoil as they face national elections early next year. Sri Lanka needs to work to move past its recent history and reconcile a nation divided by many years of civil war," the PACOM Commander said.
Observing that demand for water, food, and energy will only grow in coming years in the region, Locklear said the friction caused by water availability and use is evident among the Asian countries, including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
"Much of the Indo-Asia-Pacific is unable to adequately provide for their own food requirements, highlighting the need for stable, plentiful supplies available through international commerce. The same is true for energy supplies. Disruption to these supplies or unexpected price increases will quickly strain many governments` ability to ensure their population`s needs are met," he said.