Pakistan-based terrorist groups are planning to attack both India and Afghanistan, a top US spymaster has said.
“Islamabad has failed to curb militants and terrorists in Pakistan,” Daniel Coats, Director of National Intelligence told members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during a Congressional hearing on Worldwide threats.
“These groups will present a sustained threat to the United States’s interest in the region and continue to plan and conduct attacks in India and Afghanistan,” Mr. Coats said.
In South Asia, the intelligence community has assessed that the political and security situation in Afghanistan will almost certainly deteriorate through 2018 even with a modest increase in military assistance by the United States and its partners, he told the lawmakers.
“This deterioration is undermined by its dire economic situation. Afghanistan will struggle to curb its dependence on external support until it contains the insurgency or reaches a peace agreement with the Taliban,” Mr. Coats said.
“Meanwhile, we assess that Taliban is likely to continue to make gains especially in rural areas. Afghan Security Forces performance will probably worsen due to a combination of Taliban operations, combat casualties, desertion, poor logistic support and weak leadership,” he said.
Coats said the relations between India and Pakistan became more tense following two major terrorist attacks in 2016 by militants crossing into India from Pakistan.
“They might deteriorate further in 2017, especially in the event of another high-profile terrorist attack in India that New Delhi attributes to originating in or receiving assistance from Pakistan,” Coats said in his testimony before the Senate committee on worldwide threats.
Supporting India’s pre-condition for bilateral talks on Islamabad stopping support to cross border terrorism, Coats said increasing numbers of cross-firing along the Line of Control, including the use of artillery and mortars, might aggravate the risk of unintended escalation between the two countries.
“Easing of heightened India-Pak tension, including negotiations to renew official dialogue, will probably hinge in 2017 on a sharp and sustained reduction of cross-border attacks by terrorist groups based in Pakistan and progress in the Pathankot investigation,” Coats said.
Coats said Pakistan is concerned about its international isolation due to its dwindling position against India’s rising international status, expanded foreign outreach and deepening ties with the US.
“Pakistan will likely turn to China to offset its isolation, empowering a relationship that will help Beijing to project influence into the Indian Ocean,” said the top US intelligence official.
Noting that Pakistan will probably be able to manage its internal security, he said anti-Pakistan groups are likely to focus more on soft targets.
“Pakistan’s pursuit of tactical nuclear weapons potentially lowers the threshold for their use,” Coats warned.
“Early deployment during a crisis of smaller, more mobile nuclear weapons would increase the amount of time that systems would be outside the relative security of a storage site, increasing the risk that a coordinated attack by non-state actors might succeed in capturing a complete nuclear weapon,” he said.—INP