Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said India is a “partner for peace” and a rising power for the next hundred years. While Pakistan was also a partner, he said, Washington expects Islamabad to “take decisive action” against terrorist groups within its borders to improve not just security in South Asia, but to improve its international standing.
Tillerson delivered a major foreign policy speech relating to India at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. today, a week before his scheduled trip to India. A frequent traveler to India during his years in the private sector as head of the global oil giant Exxon, Tillerson recalled his relationship as dating back to 1998. “It was a real privilege” to work with Indian counterparts” he said and he looked forward to his upcoming visit.
In a wide-ranging speech followed by a Q and A session, Tillerson dwelt on the growing economic, defense and counter-terrorism cooperation with India, but highlighted the “scourge” of terrorism that must be contained by a greater effort from Pakistan.
“India is a partner for peace in Afghanistan,” Tillerson said. And while “Pakistan too is an important partner in South Asia,” he added, “We expect Pakistan to take decisive action against terror groups within its borders.”
Tillerson said Washington wished to be helpful in reducing tensions on the India-Pakistan border and pointed to the recent declaration of the Hizb-ul Mujahideen which operates in Indian Kashmir, as a terror group by the State Department. The U.S. and India, he said, are “leading the effort against terrorism” in the region.
The United States sees Afghanistan as a regional issue, Tillerson stressed. If the threat of terror groups is removed in Afghanistan, “the greatest beneficiary would be Pakistan and Afghanistan,” he said answering a question on future U.S. policy toward Afghanistan. “So our message to the Taliban is ‘we’re not going anywhere. We’re going to be here as long as it takes’.”
Pakistan recently helped rescue an American woman, her Canadian husband, and their three children from the Taliban, acting on U.S. intelligence information. That came short on the heels of Washington’s warning about cutting off aid if Islamabad did not act against internal terror groups in Pakistan, and the Hizb-ul decision.
Just as Tillerson was speaking at the CSIS, Vice President Mike Pence engaged in a call with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and conveyed a qualified message of thanks to Islamabad.
According to a readout of the call provided by the White House, Pence thanked Abbasi for his government’s assistance in recovering U.S. and Canadian hostages that were being held captive by the Haqqani Taliban Network in the tribal areas of Pakistan. “Vice President Pence noted this effort as an important development in Pakistan’s support to the U.S. strategy against terrorism in the region, but highlighted that cooperation against militant groups must be continued and sustained.”
Just as he did during the meeting the two had in New York last month, the Vice President again discussed ways that Pakistan could work with the United States and others to bolster stability and security for all in South Asia, the White House readout said.
In his speech and during the Q and A session that followed, Tillerson discussed the security threats in the Indo-Pacific region and praised the trilateral arrangement between Tokyo, Washington and New Delhi. He accused China of breaking international norms of behavior in the South China Sea, which he said threaten the goals of India and the U.S. The U.S.-India maritime cooperation complimented India’s “Act East” policy, he contended. He addressed “predatory economics” (possibly implying China’s economic relations in the region) that was a danger in the Indo-Pacific region, where emerging economies needed access to alternative ways to get resources. The goal was to build a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region, he said answering a question about the U.S. policy.
India and the United States formed the “book-ends of stability” at two ends of the world, the Secretary said and, “The security concerns of India are of concern to the United States.”
In a period of uncertainty in the world, “India needs a reliable partner on the world stage, and the United States is that partner,” Tillerson said, adding, “It is time to double-down on the democratic partner,” who he said, “is rising steadily and will rise for the next 100 years.”
President Trump and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he said, are committed to building an “ambitious partnership” and Washington wants to “dramatically deepen” the relationship.