WASHINGTON - Despite repeated assurances that Pakistani military is going after all terrorist groups without discrimination, the White House has insisted that extremists continue to operate with “virtual impunity” in some areas of Pakistan.

At the same time, White House Press Secretary John Earnest stated that the US values counter-terrorism cooperation with India.

He was responding to a question about President Barack Obama’s remarks in an interview with India Today, in which he said it’s unacceptable for Pakistan to provide safe havens to terrorists.

“For a long time, this administration has expressed concerns about some areas of Pakistan where extremists operate in virtual impunity and in many cases, use that safe haven to carry out attacks against American forces that are operating in Afghanistan. And that is something that we are concerned about and we have raised those concerns with our partners in Pakistan,” Earnest said.

He welcomed the recent additional steps taken by the Pakistani government to try to root out the extremists that are operating in that area.

“And there has been recently additional steps that have been taken by the Pakistani government to try to root out the extremists that are operating in that area. And we certainly would welcome those steps. But those are steps that are ultimately taken by the Pakistani government because they recognise that the extremist threat that exists in their country poses a significant threat to their citizens.”

“We spent a lot of time, and for good reason, talking about the terror attacks that were carried out in Paris a couple of weeks ago, but just a week or two before that, we saw an atrocious terrorist act carried out in Peshawar, where more than 100 schoolchildren were gunned down,” the White House press secretary added.

“So it reflects what we have often said, which is that so many of these Al-Qaeda affiliates that are operating, when they carry out acts of terror, that there are far more victims of their acts that are Muslim than are anybody else,” he said.

“The US values the counter-terrorism coordination relationship that we have with India. We certainly are interested in discussing with them ways that we can strengthen that relationship.”

Meanwhile, Frank Kendall, defence undersecretary of acquisitions, is in India working on things that be delivered in Prime Minister Modi and President Obama`s meetings, he told reporters.

“I think it is a unique time for India. It`s a particularly, I think, unique time for this relationship between India and the United States,” he said.

Earlier this week, the White House assured Islamabad that its relations with India were not at Pakistan’s expense. But South Asian experts in Washington emphasise the need for Pakistan to reconsider its policies towards India.

Michael Kugelman of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, wrote in The New York Times on Friday that the US administration should address New Delhi’s concerns about Islamabad — while taking care to maintain its relationship with Islamabad.

“Washington needs to execute a delicate dance: Push back against Pakistan in order to further America’s friendship with India, while taking care not to alienate the Pakistanis,” he said. “A neat trick?”

Washington-Delhi relations have come a long way since Narendra Modi, who was once banned from entering the United States because of concerns over his human rights record, took over as prime minister.

But as Obama arrives in Delhi this weekend to celebrate the two countries’ burgeoning diplomatic love-in with anticipated deals on trade, climate change and defence, he is expected to acknowledge an entirely different factor driving these two giants closer together: the increasingly influential Indian American diaspora, according to media reports.

Though less well-known than older immigrant groups, there are many prominent Indians in American society. The US surgeon general and new ambassador to Delhi; the governors of Louisiana and South Carolina; the chief executives of Microsoft and Pepsi; the deans of Harvard College and Harvard Business School and the frontrunner to become California’s next US senator are all of Indian American heritage.

New Jersey lawyer Seema Singh is typical of these successful professionals encouraging her two home countries to put their many historic differences behind them, and she recalls how much has changed since she once rallied with other expatriates against Modi’s visa ban in 2005.

“There has been a vast change in attitude; it’s like a total 360-degree turn,” Singh was quoted as saying. “Our community is very involved in politics; they have a lot of clout. It’s a huge vote bank for any politician who is running.”

Not all of the issues that matter to Indian American expats – such as immigration reform and trade liberalisation – are on the US agenda for Sunday’s summit meeting, but the influence of the diaspora cuts both ways, according to those who travel back and forth regularly.

“Almost every upper-middle-class family, and increasingly more middle-class Indian families, has a family member who is a professional in the United States,” says Sujai Shivakumar, a scientist at the National Research Council in Washington.

“Given the relative ease of travel and, in the past decade, the nearly free cost of communication, these family networks have been preserved and extended. This means, among other implications, that a critical mass of educated Indians in India have been exposed to and even understand the American mindset.”

“I think this [summit] very much underlines the role that the Indian diaspora has played in the kind of bilateral relationship,” Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said. “Sometimes quite to the surprise of Indians, but I think this is something which is also going to come up and resonate in the course of this particular visit.”

White House officials confirm that the “soft power” relationships binding Delhi and Washington are likely to feature as much if not more than the “hard power” negotiations over arms sales, nuclear energy and regional security that tend to capture most media attention.

“The president will speak to the fact that we’ve often noted this potential for the US-India relationship – two very large economies, the two largest democracies in the world, a large India diaspora that has thrived here in the United States,” says Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security advisor. “People have long looked at this relationship and seen the fundamentals in place for a really, really close partnership, and yet it’s been a challenge in translating that into outcomes.”

Exactly what deals are likely to be announced during the visit was still unclear just days before the president was due to arrive, but most observers expect tangible benefits from the growing diplomatic warmth.