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Robert Gates Praises India's Restraint Post 26/11

PTI 19 Jan 2010, 10:46:08 AM IST

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, flying to New Delhi, praised India's restraint and statesmanship following the 2008 Mumbai attacks and remarked at how both India and Pakistan have kept tensions at a "manageable level."

Relations between the South Asian neighbors have been strained since India suspended a peace process with Pakistan after the assault on Mumbai by Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists.

India sees Islamabad as unwilling to go after the terrorists responsible for the attacks, which killed 166 people.

"The bombing in Mumbai was a really terrible event and frankly I believe that the Indians responded subsequently with a great deal of restraint and have conducted themselves in a very statesmen-like manner since that attack," Gates told reporters on his flight to India for a Jan 19-21 visit.

"Obviously we would hope that there wouldn't be any more attacks. But I think that even within the framework of that attack and the suspicions that it created, the two sides have managed to keep the tensions between them at a manageable level."

Last month, Gates told the U.S. Senate he believed al Qaeda wanted to provoke a conflict between India and Pakistan in order to destabilize Pakistan. He said it was providing Lashkar-e-Taiba militants -- the group blamed for the Mumbai killings -- with targeting information to help the group plot attacks in India.

Gates said the United States would be happy to work to help improve India-Pakistan relations, if asked, but added: "I think it's clear that both sides prefer to deal with this bilaterally and that others not be involved."

Gates said he had doubts about Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar will ever make peace with the elected Afghan government.

Gates said a process of reconciliation and reintegration of Taliban fighters is essential to success in Afghanistan.  He was referring to the invitation from Afghan leaders to lure fighters with no strong allegiance to terrorists away from the insurgency and reintegrate them into Afghan society.

Gates said he doesn't think chances are high that senior Taliban leaders will want to lay down arms until they see the tide turning. Even then, Gates said the chance of real reconciliation with Omar was slim.