India is isolating Islamabad diplomatically and considering punitive action against Pakistan over its support of cross border terrorism, a top American defence intelligence official has told lawmakers.
"India has sought and continues to move to isolate Pakistan diplomatically and is considering punitive options to raise the cost to Islamabad for its alleged support to cross-border terrorism," Lt Gen Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during a Congressional hearing on worldwide threats, PTI reports.
His statement came a day after Indian Army launched "punitive fire assaults" on Pakistani positions across the Line of Control.
Stewart said India is modernising its military to better position itself to defend New Delhi's interests in the broader Indian Ocean region and reinforce its diplomatic and economic outreach across Asia.
Bilateral relations between India and Pakistan worsened following several terrorist attacks in India, he said.
"A continued threat of high-level terror attacks in India, violence in Kashmir and bilateral diplomatic recriminations will further strain India-Pakistan ties in 2017," he said.
Following a terrorist attack on an Indian Army base in Kashmir last September, New Delhi conducted a highly publicised operation against terrorists across the Line of Control, he added.
"In 2016, Indian and Pakistani forces exchanged some of the heaviest fire in years along the Line of Control in Kashmir, and each expelled a number of the other's diplomats amid growing tension," Stewart said.
He also told lawmakers that in 2017, Islamabad is likely to slowly shift from traditional counterinsurgency operations along Pakistan's western border to more counter-terrorism and paramilitary operations throughout the country, which have had some success in reducing violence from militant, sectarian, terrorist, and separatist groups.
"Anti-Pakistan groups probably will respond to this sustained pressure by focusing their efforts against soft targets," he said.
Noting that Pakistan's nuclear stockpile continues to grow, Stewart said the US is concerned that this as well as Pakistan's developing tactical nuclear weapons presents an enduring risk.
"Islamabad is taking steps to improve its nuclear security and is aware of the extremist threat to its programme," Stewart said.
Observing that China has long identified the protection of its sovereignty and territorial integrity as a "core interest", he said, in the South China Sea, China has embarked on a multi-year, whole-of-government approach to securing sovereignty, principally through maritime law enforcement and military patrols.
In 2016, China rejected the international arbitration ruling on its excessive South China Sea claims, built infrastructure at its manmade outposts on the Spratly Islands, and for the first time, landed civilian aircraft on its airfields at Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef, and Mischief Reef.
"China will be able to use its reclaimed features as persistent civil-military bases, which will enhance its presence and its ability to control the features and nearby maritime space. Beijing recognises the need to defend these outposts and is prepared to respond to any military operations near them," he told the lawmakers.