U.S. Balances Relationships with Pakistan, India

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Pakistan initially declined to allow a plane carrying an American commander the use of its airspace for a trip to India. The incident illustrates both the level of tension between India and Pakistan and Pakistan's limitations as an ally.

SUSAN STAMBERG, host:

For decades, the United States has considered Pakistan a military ally, even more so since September 11th. Until recently, Washington kept Pakistan's neighbor, India, at a distance. During the Cold War, India was sometimes seen as tilting toward the Soviet Union. Now the U.S. and India have much in common, including troubles with terrorism and Pakistan.

NPR Pentagon correspondent John Hendren visited India this week with the head of the U.S. Pacific Command.

JOHN HENDREN: The plane carrying the Pacific Command Chief, Admiral William Fallon, circled outside the Pakistani border for two hours, delaying his trip to New Delhi. When fuel ran low it landed on unexpectedly in the Afghan capital of Kabul instead. Pakistan had declined to allow the American commander to use its airspace for a trip to India. When Fallon finally arrived, the senior Indian commander quipped that he had made one mistake, as far as the Pakistanis were concerned: wrong destination.

Pakistan eventually relented. Maybe it was just a bureaucratic error, but the incident would seem to highlight both the level of tension between India and Pakistan, and the limitations of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf as an American ally in the Bush administration's war on terror.

Admiral WILLIAM FALLON (Pacific Command Chief): Musharraf has got a tough roe to hoe. You have the active insurgency in Afghanistan that we're battling in the west of his territory. In the east, there's this longstanding animosity towards the Indians. And the fact that he's under siege by some elements within his own country for domestic reasons, he's got a tough fight. I want to leverage our existing relationship with Pakistan to bring the Indians in and hopefully be able to resolve their longstanding differences.

HENDREN: Fallon began his visit in bustling New Delhi, seeking to expand relations with India. And there he heard a familiar complaint. Pakistan has little control over terrorists living within its borders. In one of his first meetings after arriving in New Delhi, a senior Indian official leaned over the conference table and expressed deep concern about a Pakistani province on the Afghan border. He said, in his words, We are very worried about Warziristan. It's beginning to look like Talibanistan.

That's not just a problem for Afghanistan, once dominated by the Taliban militia. Pakistani militants have long been blamed for attacks in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Indian police recently accused Pakistan's intelligence service of plotting a series of bombs on trains in Mumbai in July. Shivshankar Menon is India's foreign secretary.

Mr. SHIVSHANKAR MENON (Foreign Secretary, India): We've both been engaged in a process of trying to address the issues that divide us, trying to build a relationship, and trying to actually implement various Pakistani commitments to stop the use of Pakistani territory for terrorism against India. It's been over into Kashmir and other states in India. And the most recent instance was the blast in Mumbai on the trains.

HENDREN: Geoffrey Pyatt is deputy chief of mission at the American Embassy in New Delhi.

Mr. GEOFFREY PYATT (Deputy Chief of Mission, American Embassy, New Delhi): India is concerned about a change in the pattern of terrorism, which is increasingly targeting the heartland of the country. The United States and India are in the same - this is the same fight for both of us. We're in this fight together, as far as the war on terrorism is concerned.

HENDREN: In many ways, the U.S. has more in common with India, an economically expanding democracy, than its old ally, Pakistan.

(Soundbite of music)

HENDREN: India even has its own Army/Navy game, though this sport is polo, not football.

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Man: That is the first goal for the Army team.

HENDREN: Nearly two-thirds of India's million-man army is arrayed on the Pakistani border, often in areas so remote that they have to be reached by helicopter.

India has developed an elaborate but highly secretive network of sensors along the Pakistani border. Rather than brave it, the Mumbai bombers are believed to have entered through the porous border with Bangladesh instead. The details of India's border surveillance system are so sensitive, that when Admiral Fallon brought me along for a tour of the region earlier this week, my car was diverted with no notice to the American delegation. And I was politely held at an Indian Army base near the city of Jamo for several hours, until the tour was over.

Fallon says India's eastern border is impressive.

Adm. FALLON: It's extensive fence lines with sensors and many thousands of troops that are up all along the line of control. The data indicates that they've had pretty good success in stemming the number of folks coming across. But even they admit that there're still some people that make it through, because it's very, very rugged terrain. And it's one of many situations in the world that really need a solution, a long-term solution.

HENDREN: India was the main stop on a weeklong tour by Admiral Fallon that also includes Singapore and East Timor.

John Hendren, NPR News, traveling with the Pacific Command Chief in Singapore.

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