NEW DELHI — Working with Pakistan can be frustrating and difficult, but it is necessary for stability in the region and security in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday in a speech at a top Indian think tank.

“Pakistan is a complicated relationship, complicated for both of our countries. But it is one that we must work to improve,” Panetta said at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. “You can’t have a stable Afghanistan if you don’t have a stable Pakistan.”

While Panetta said the U.S. must build a better relationship with Pakistan, he said the U.S. will not sit idly by when attacked.

“This is about our sovereignty as well,” Panetta said in response to a comment about Pakistan calling drone attacks in that country a violation of its sovereignty. “We are going to protect ourselves.”

Still, he said, it isn’t just about keeping the United States safe.

“The terrorists who threaten the United States threaten Pakistan as well,” he said.

On Tuesday and again in his speech, Panetta encouraged India to continue supporting Afghanistan through trade and investment, reconstruction and training Afghan security forces. He also tried to allay concerns expressed by IDSA fellows about the mission in Afghanistan.

“We don’t have a Plan B, because we don’t think we need one. This is about Plan A,” Panetta said. This isn’t about good enough. This is about completing the mission.”

On his first visit to India as secretary of defense, Panetta met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defense Minister A.K. Antony and National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, hoping to expand what defense officials say is already a strong relationship.

“Today, we have growing economic, social and diplomatic ties that benefit both of our nations,” Panetta said. “But for this relationship to truly provide security for this region and for the world, we will need to deepen our defense and our security cooperation. This is why I have come to India.”

The U.S. and India participated in 50 cooperative defense events last year, and military exercises and engagements will increase, Panetta said. The two countries have also increased their defense sales relationship. India will soon have the “second largest fleet of C-17s in the world,” Panetta said, and be the only country other than the U.S. to operate the P8-I, a long-range, anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft.

“Over the long term, I am certain that we will transition our defense trade beyond the buyer-seller relationship to substantial co-production and, eventually, high-technology joint research and development.”

Panetta also said he wants to cut through the red tape that ties up defense trades, and has asked Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to work with Indian officials to streamline the process “and make our defense trade more simple, responsive and effective.”

Panetta spoke in Singapore last week at the Shangri-La security dialogue, then traveled to Vietnam to meet with defense leaders there. While many of the leaders he’s met with are interested in a defense trade relationship with the United States, he said he believes they are open to a broader relationship as well.

“If they believe that the United States is truly interested in developing their capabilities and not simply going in there and telling them what to do, or trying to overwhelm them with power, I think they’re willing to listen,” Panetta told reporters Wednesday evening. “So the real challenge is to convince them that is what our intentions are all about. And I think we are making good progress getting that point across.”

hladj@stripes.osd.milTwitter: @jhlad

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