Noting that terrorist groups might try to provoke conflict between India and Pakistan, United States Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday told US lawmakers that he is concerned about the current situation in Pakistan.
"I worry a lot about Pakistan. It has huge economic problems... They have a serious internal terrorism threat that is seeking to destabilise Pakistan itself. And I worry that some of those terrorists might try and provoke a conflict between Pakistan and India," Gates told a Senate Committee hearing.
"I think that there's a lot to be concerned about with Pakistan," he said in response to a question from Senator John McCain, who said that there is a serious disruption of ties between the US and Pakistan as a result of the arrest of American diplomat Raymond Davis over alleged murder charges.
"There's been serious disruption, obviously, with this American citizens who is now being held in prison, the whole role of private contractors, the continued allegations of relationships between Inter Services Intelligence and the Taliban. I'm deeply concerned about the situation in Pakistan, which obviously is vital to the sustained and long-term success in Afghanistan," McCain said.
Acknowledging that sanctuaries still exist in Pakistan, Gates however praised Islamabad for moving troops from the India border to wards the Af-Pak border.
"The Pakistanis have 140,000 troops on that border. These things improve step by step, not as quickly as we would like, but we get to a better place over time," he said.
"If you'd asked me two years ago if the Pakistanis would withdraw six divisions from the Indian border and put them in the west, I would have said impossible. If you would have asked me if we would begin coordinating operations on both sides of the border with Afghan and ISAF forces on the one side, and the Pakistanis on the other, I would have said that's very unlikely," he noted.
"They are chipping away at some of these sanctuaries. It's very important what they've done in South Waziristan and Swat. But it's a mixed picture and it's something we just need to keep working at it," Gates said.
Sharing concerns of Senator McCain on Pakistan, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that "the vector" is going in the wrong direction overall for Pakistan.
"We're very unpopular there... It's highlighted in each crisis whether -- I mean, we provided extraordinary support for the floods last year -- 'we' the military. And then registers in a popular way shortly. You have an incident like the one we're going through right now and our popularity is back down in very small numbers," he said.
"I do think we have to stay at it. It is where lots of terrorist organizations head, not just Al Qaeda. They are more combined in their efforts than they've ever been. So I do think we have to continue to work at it. I'm as concerned as I've ever been," Mullen said.