A syndicate of terror groups is working to sow violence and destruction across South Asia, and India and Pakistan need to work together to combat the mutual threat, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday.
Gates, who spoke during a visit to India, said no nation was immune from terror.
He linked Taliban militants operating along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border with Lashkar-e-Taiba extremists accused of orchestrating the 2008 terror attack on the Indian city of Mumbai, saying both groups worked under the umbrella of al Qaeda.
"It's dangerous to single out any one of these groups and say, 'If we can beat that group, that will solve the problem,' because they are in effect a syndicate of terrorist operators intended to destabilize this entire region," Gates said.
When one group succeeds in carrying out an attack, all of them gain in capability and reputation, he said. "A victory for one is a victory for all."
The groups were hoping to spark a conflict between India and Pakistan, or provoke instability in Pakistan, he said. He urged a coordinated effort by India and Pakistan to fight the terror groups, but such cooperation is likely to be a tough sell.
The neighbors have fought three wars and remain wary over each other's intentions. Pakistan is unhappy with India's significant influence in Afghanistan, and India accuses Pakistan of harboring terror groups plotting attacks here.
India blames the November 2008 attack on Mumbai, which killed 166 people, on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba group. Following the assault, India froze talks with Pakistan that had been aimed at resolving the long-running dispute over Kashmir, which both countries claim in its entirety.
Gates praised both nuclear-armed nations for their restraint in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, but cautioned that it might not hold.
"It is not unreasonable to assume that Indian patience would be limited were there another attack," he said.
After meetings Wednesday, Gates and his entourage flew on Indian military planes to the city of Agra, where he visited the Taj Mahal.
Gates arrived in India on Tuesday and met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other top officials. He urged them to finalize long-pending security cooperation agreements between the two countries, he said.
India is spending billions annually on U.S.-made military hardware, although Gates said current agreements prevent India from being able to buy some U.S. weaponry or technology.