Strongly refuting the Pakistani claim that India has no role in Afghanistan, new US Commander General David Petraeus has said that New Delhi has a legitimate interest in the region.
"India has legitimate interests in this region," Gen Petraeus, said in response to a question at his confirmation hearing for the US and NATO in Afghanistan before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The Senate Armed Services Committee later in the day confirmed him by a voice vote. His nomination now goes to the full Senate for confirmation.
Currently Commander of the US Central Command, Petraeus was nominated as the new US Commander for Afghanistan after Gen Stanley McChrystal was sacked from the post following the appearance of his interview in the Rolling Stone magazine in which he was highly critical of the Obama Administration.
Petraeus's remarks on India came in response to a question from Senator Kay Hagan who said that it's has been reported that Pakistan wants to be a channel to the Pashtuns in Afghanistan and wants to utilize reconciliation as the mechanism to influence Afghanistan and overt Indian regional encirclement.
"How will you work with the Afghan government and military to manage Pakistan's strategic interests?" he asked.
"We can certainly facilitate that dialogue, participate in the dialogue, be perhaps an honest broker in that dialogue. We are friends to both. We are enormously enabling both, you know, Pakistan is in a tough fight," he said.
"One if its fights, by the way, is to keep our lines of communication open. You enable us to provide substantial amounts of coalition support funding to them, well over $1 billion for the course of the past fiscal and calendar year, and then another somewhere well up into hundreds of millions in foreign military financing and other mechanisms, plus the $1.5 billion of Kerry-Lugar-Berman for each of the next five years," Petraeus said. "That's very important, and that's a symbol, again, of our sustained, substantial commitment. It shows that we do not want to do to them what we did after Charlie Wilson's war, which was having achieved the outcome that we wanted, washed our hands of it, and left. And I think it's very important," he observed.
"They've seen that movie before, as well. I think it's very important that they realize that we are in this with them, with both of them, and, by the way, with India, as well. India has legitimate interests in this region, without question, as do others, if you want to extend it further," Petraeus said.
"So I think we can facilitate that. This would be again, a civil-military effort very much. But we'll use those relationships that we have developed to that end," he said.
Meanwhile,Petraeus also said Pakistan's involvement in a reconciliation agreement in Afghanistan is essential and the United States needs to further this developing partnership between the two neighbouring countries.
According to a report in Dawn, the new US commander for Afghanistan also told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had denied reports that he recently met a top leader of anti-Kabul network Sirajuddin Haqqani.
"Pakistani involvement in some form of reconciliation agreement, I think that that is essential," Gen Petraeus told the committee's chairman Senator Carl Levin, said Dawn.
"Clearly, we want to forge a partnership or further the partnership that has been developing between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Those countries are always going to be neighbours. And helping them develop a constructive relationship would be an important contribution," the general said.
But he also warned not to expect these recent contacts between Pakistan and Afghanistan to lead to an immediate reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgents.
"Now, whether that is possible, such an agreement, I think is going to depend on a number of factors that will play out over the course of the summer, including creating a sense among the Taliban that they are going to get hammered in the field and perhaps should look at some options," said the general.