Oct 202017

WASHINGTON: The US State Department has said that America’s close relationship with India does not mean that if Indians had an armed conflict with another country, Washington is automatically going to side with New Delhi.

“Wow. Okay, I don’t think I’d go that far,” said US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert when asked at a news briefing in Washington on Thursday afternoon that the next time India had a conflict Pakistan, New Delhi will get Washington’s full support.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at a Washington think tank on Wednesday that the US was going to have dramatically deepened relationships with India, adding that the “security issues that concern India are concerns of the US too”. Mr Tillerson is scheduled to visit Islamabad and New Delhi this week for talks on the new US strategy in South Asia.

Responding to a question about the secretary’s remarks at the State Department news briefing, Ms Nauert said Mr Tiller was talking about “shared-interests”, as the two countries already cooperate in many key areas — from military exercises to intelligence gathering and counterterrorism.

The United States, she said, also appreciated how India was helping develop an infrastructure in Afghanistan and how it was playing a key role in strengthening the Afghan economy for which “we are very grateful to India”.

“So, I think, the Secretary was really trying to underscore the importance of that relationship with India and recognising that we have a lot of areas where we can have mutual cooperation,” said the US official while explaining Mr Tillerson’s remarks.

A journalist, however, reminded her that there were frequent exchanges of fires between India and Pakistan. “So, when it happens next time, does it mean that the US has to take sides?” the journalist asked.

“I think, we are always very cautious about addressing those issues, not wanting to contribute to any additional tensions,” Ms Nauert replied.

In his remarks at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, on Wednesday, Secretary Tillerson also highlighted US ties with Pakistan.

“Pakistan, too, is an important US partner in South Asia. Our relationships in the region stand on their own merits,” he said.

“We expect Pakistan to take decisive action against terrorist groups based within its own borders that threaten its own people and the broader region.”

Mr Tillerson said that by taking such actions Pakistan would “further stability and peace for itself and its neighbours and will improve its own international standing”.

He said President Trump’s new South Asia strategy was an effort to resolve the Afghan issue by promoting peace and stability in the entire South Asian region.

“You solve Afghanistan by addressing the regional challenges. And Pakistan is an important element of that,” he said. “India is an important element of how we achieve the ultimate objective, which is a stable

Afghanistan, which no longer serves as a platform for terrorist organisations.”

The new US strategy, he claimed, was “quite simple: we will deny terrorists the opportunity, the means, the location, the wherewithal, the financing, the ability to organise and carry out attacks against Americans at home and abroad, anywhere in the world”.

Mr Tillerson said that Afghanistan and Pakistan would be greatest beneficiaries if terrorism was eradicated from South Asia.

“And we think that is achievable and we can have a stable, peaceful Afghanistan. And when that happens, a big threat is removed from Pakistan’s future stability as well, which then creates a better condition for India-Pakistan relationships,” he said while explaining why he believed the new US strategy was good for all.

Mr Tillerson said the US wanted to work closely with India and with Pakistan to ease tensions along their border as well. “Pakistan has two very troubled borders and we’d like to help them take the tension down on both of those and secure a future stable Pakistan government which we think improves relations in the region as well,” he said.

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2017

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