U.S. envoy to India warns vs. another Mumbai-style attack

Web Exclusive
May 20, 2011

Text and photo by Ted Regencia

CHICAGO — The outgoing U.S. ambassador to India warned Friday against another terrorist attack in the world’s largest democracy, saying it could spark serious conflict with its neighbor and fellow nuclear state of Pakistan.

Speaking before members of Chicago’s foreign affairs establishment, Timothy J. Roemer said that while “great progress” has been made in terms of counter-terrorism cooperation between India and Pakistan, a single violent event could alter that tenuous relationship.

“If another Mumbai attack takes place in India, if we are not able to work with India to deflect that attack, it very well could lead to increased tensions and possibly some kind of exchange between these two nuclear nations,” Roemer said.

That is why it is crucial for the United States to assist India maintain its security and avert terrorist threats before they happen, said the Indiana-born diplomat and former congressman.

Roemer highlighted the “intelligence-sharing” between the U.S. and India as proof of that security cooperation, citing as a specific example the case of David Headley, who is under American custody.

Headley is a Chicago-based Pakistani-American accused by India of helping plan the Mumbai attack. The U.S. initially blocked India’s access to Headley arousing suspicions in New Delhi that Headley is double-agent also working for the U.S., an accusation the CIA denied.

Last week, Roemer called on Pakistan “to do more” and “to show progress and results” in prosecuting members of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the group India held responsible for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack that killed more than 100 people. India also claims that LeT is a creation of the Pakistani intelligence agency.

Meanwhile, Roemer told his Chicago audience that U.S.-India relations “is the defining partnership of the 21st century.”

“India is important to the United States because of who they are and where they are,” Roemer said citing India’s proximity to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where American forces are battling Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces for almost a decade.

The U.S. and India have a common interest “in fostering a peaceful and stable South Asia,” Roemer said. “South Asia is an area of both much promise and much peril.”

India also plays an important role in determining the future of Afghanistan, according to Roemer. Last year he visited the war-torn country to identify specific projects it can work on with the Indian government such as “women empowerment and agriculture issues.”

“The United States and India share a very common strategic interest in the outcome for the people of Afghanistan,” he stressed.

In the economic front, the U.S. continues to eye India’s rapid growth as an opportunity for many American businesses, said Roemer citing the 17 percent increase in U.S. export to India in 2010.

“Most of the conversation and attention is focused on China as it rises as a political and economic powerhouse,” Roemer observed. “Yet India should be given equal billing.”

“By 2020, India could have the world’s third largest economy,” Roemer said adding that some economic projections show that in the next three to five years India’s economic growth could outpace that of China.

By that time however, Roemer would no longer be serving as U.S. ambassador to India. Last April he announced his resignation as ambassador to return to the U.S. His reported departure in June triggered speculations that he could be appointed as the next Commerce Secretary, replacing Gary Locke who will be the next U.S. ambassador to China.

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