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Pak needs to act against terror groups for US’ new South Asia policy to succeed, says India

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson discussed issues related to terrorism and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region during meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and national security adviser Ajit Doval.

india Updated: Oct 25, 2017 20:14 IST
Jayanth Jacob
Jayanth Jacob
Hindustan times, New Delhi
Rex Tillerson,Rex Tillerson in India,Rex Tillerson Sushma Swaraj meeting
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson meets Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Wednesday.(PTI)

The new US policy for South Asia, with India being asked to play a larger role in Afghanistan, can succeed only if Pakistan acts decisively against terror groups operating from its soil, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said after meeting her American counterpart Rex Tillerson in New Delhi on Wednesday.

As Tillerson’s six-nation tour, which also took him to Afghanistan and Pakistan, culminated with meetings with the Indian leadership, the two sides decided to expand cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region to counter an aggressive China as part of efforts to cement bilateral ties.

The US secretary of state travelled to New Delhi from Islamabad, where he told the Pakistani leadership to increase their efforts to eradicate terrorists. He met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and national security adviser Ajit Doval.

“India and the US discussed that no country in the world should provide safe havens to terror groups. Any country backing terrorism must be made responsible. The US’s South Asia policy can succeed only if Pakistan acts decisively against terror groups (that operate from its territory),” Swaraj told the media while summing up a major part of her discussions with Tillerson.

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj during a joint press briefing in New Delhi on Wednesday. ( Arvind Yadav/HT PHOTO )

Officials familiar with the talks said Swaraj explained to Tillerson, whom she met for the second time, that the safe havens Pakistan provides to terror groups which target India and Afghanistan pose the biggest threat to peace and stability in the region.

The US should take this into account and get Pakistan to act “decisively” against such groups for the success of its new South Asia policy, the Indian side said.

Sharing India’s concerns but noting that the US has to work with Pakistan, its long-standing ally in the region, Tillerson told reporters that the US is concerned about militant groups threatening the “stability and security” of the government in Islamabad. No country should provide safe havens to terror groups, he added.

The new South Asia policy unveiled by President Donald Trump in August envisages a bigger role for India in Afghanistan. Trump also threatened to crack down on Pakistan if it did not act against militant groups sheltering in its territory.

India has for long blamed Pakistan-based terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba for carrying out strikes in the country, the same way American officials have accused Islamabad of not acting against the Afghan Taliban and its ally, the Haqqani Network.

Tillerson held talks with Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, foreign minister Khawaja Asif and the heads of the army and intelligence services in Islamabad on Tuesday before flying into New Delhi.

He said terror groups based in Pakistan, who go unchecked, pose a threat “to the stability and security” of the government in Islamabad.

“This could lead to a threat to Pakistan’s own stability. It is not in anyone’s interests that the government of Pakistan be destabilised,” he said. “In the fight against terrorism, the US will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with India.”

His discussions in New Delhi also focussed on the critical role India would play in the US regional strategy for the Indian and Pacific Oceans to counter an assertive China.

“I look forward to further cooperation in the broader Indo-Pacific region as we both promote a rules-based approach to commerce and a transparent and sustainable approach to economic development. We are glad to be joined in this effort by our close mutual partner Japan,” he said.

India and the US are also working to host their first “2 plus 2” dialogue, a meeting between their foreign and defence ministers, early next year, the leaders said.

Answering a question on India’s extensive ties with Iran, Tillerson said the US would not block “legitimate” business between Tehran and any ally of his country. The Trump administration has taken a tougher stand on Iran over its nuclear and missile programmes.

“Our fight is not with the Iranian people. Our disagreements are with the revolutionary regime…We are taking actions to impose sanctions on the regime and in particular the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. It is our objective to deny financing capacity and to disrupt activities related to these malign behaviours,” he said.

Swaraj said she and Tillerson also discussed significant contributions to the US economy made by skilled Indian professionals holding H1-B and L1 visas.

During his meeting with Tillerson, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pointed to the commonality of the objectives of India and the US, which include eradicating terrorism and terrorist infrastructure while bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan.

“They further discussed stepping up effective cooperation to combat terrorism in all its forms and promoting regional stability and security,” said a statement from the PMO.

First Published: Oct 25, 2017 20:12 IST