NEW DELHI (Reuters) - An Islamist militancy in Pakistan’s Swat region is a common threat to the United States, India and Pakistan, a special U.S. envoy said on Monday, after meeting India’s foreign minister and top security officials.
Seeking a greater role for India in stabilizing the region, Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, said he discussed details of his visit last week to the two countries and shared his concerns about security.
“For the first time in 60 years since independence your country and Pakistan, the U.S., all face an enemy that poses a direct threat to our leadership, our capitals and our people,” Holbrooke told reporters in New Delhi.
Holbrooke was referring to the Swat valley, once a picturesque tourist destination but now controlled by the Taliban and other Islamist militants.
Pakistan agreed on Monday to restore strict Islamist law in the Swat valley, just 130 km (80 miles) northwest of Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, to pacify Taliban militants who fought for sharia to replace secular Pakistani laws.
The move is likely to draw criticism from the United States and other Western powers fearful that Pakistan is playing into the hands of religious conservatives who sympathize with the Taliban and al Qaeda.
“I do want to underscore the fact that what happened to Swat demonstrates the keypoint and that is India, the U.S. and Pakistan all have a common threat now,” Holbrooke said.
“I talked to people from Swat and they were frankly quite terrified.
“I attempted to discuss Swat a lot, Swat has really deeply affected the people of Pakistan not just in Peshawar but in Lahore and Islamabad.”
India is seen as crucial to any U.S. effort to stabilize Afghanistan where it has built roads, power lines and is among its top aid givers.
But Pakistan fears growing Indian influence there, suspecting an attempt by New Delhi to encircle it.
Those fears are said to be a reason why Pakistan has been reluctant to completely cut ties with the Taliban, seeing them as a tool to maintain its influence in Afghanistan by proxy.
Tensions rose after New Delhi blamed last November’s attacks in Mumbai on Pakistan-based militants and said some official Pakistani agencies must have been involved.
Indian officials said they told Holbrooke about Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan and urged him to ask Islamabad to completely dismantle what they described as “terror infrastructure” on Pakistani soil.
“I just wanted to hear views of India on a wide range of issues,” Holbrooke said.
Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and Bill Tarrant