NEW DELHI: Highlighting the India-US convergence on strategic issues, US secretary of state Rex Tillerson sent a stern message to Pakistan on Wednesday, saying terror safe havens would not be tolerated and that too many terrorist organisations were finding sanctuary in the neighbouring country.
On his first visit to India, and shortly after a dialogue with his counterpart Sushma Swaraj, Tillerson not only noted that terror groups based in Pakistan were a serious threat to other countries but said they might well affect the stability of the host nation itself and that was a cause of concern for the US.
“Quite frankly, my view, and I expressed this to the leadership of Pakistan, is we also are concerned about the stability and security of Pakistan’s government, as well as these terrorist organisations have enlarged their numbers, enlarged their strength and their capability,” Tillerson said.
“This could lead to a threat to Pakistan’s own stability…” The top US diplomat seemed to qualify his remark on Pakistan as a terror haven by saying the US wanted to work in a positive way with Islamabad but the lack of hesitation in calling out Islamabad for its support to terrorism was also evident.
Tillerson’s visit saw the 2 countries underscoring the strength of their strategic partnership as “natural allies” who shared the responsibility to ensure peace and security in the Indo-Pacific.
While Tillerson urged India to increase its economic assistance to Afghanistan, Swaraj said both India and US believed that effective action by Pakistan against all terrorist groups without distinction was critical to the success of the new South Asia and Afghanistan strategy of President Trump. “Those who support terror should be held accountable,” she said.
Tillerson also called on PM Narendra Modi who, in the context of the new US South Asia policy, noted the commonality in the objectives of “eradicating terrorism, terrorist infrastructure, safe havens, and support, while bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan”.
In another sign of growing strategic convergence, the 2 countries will soon hold their first meeting of 2+2 dialogue mechanism and also an India-US-Afghanistan trilateral. There was also a discussion on connectivity with focus on China’s OBOR which, both countries, believe could create debt-ridden economies in the region.
As Swaraj said, both countries had agreed on a set of principles that should guide connectivity initiatives in this region. India and US believe that such initiatives must respect sovereignty and territorial integrity which is important for New Delhi in the context of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which passes through the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region.
While there was no discussion on the recent Doklam dispute with China, Swaraj said that the 2 countries reaffirmed the importance of freedom of navigation, over-flight and unimpeded commerce in accordance with international laws “in order to achieve a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific region”. This is seen as a message to Beijing which continues to boost its naval capabilities in the disputed South China Sea. Paying rich tributes to India’s commitment to a global rules based order, for which Swaraj thanked him Wednesday, Tillerson had accused China of “at times” undermining the same order and international norms in South China Sea.
Tillerson reiterated that the US supported India’s emergence as a leading power. After Tillerson’s meeting with Modi, the government said in a statement that Modi shared the resolve expressed by Tillerson on taking further steps in the direction of accelerating and strengthening the content, pace and scope of the bilateral engagement. “They affirmed that a strengthened India-US partnership is not just of mutual benefit to both countries, but has significant positive impact on the prospects for regional and global stability and prosperity,” it said.