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India & US stand shoulder to shoulder in fight against terrorism: Rex Tillerson

Sadiq Naqvi | Updated on: 25 October 2017, 21:02 IST

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has reiterated that the US stands shoulder to shoulder with India in the fight against terror, even as he said that the US is looking for more convergence in the Indo-Pacific region.

The top diplomat was not very clear on how US President Donald Trump’s South Asia policy would interplay with US administration’s aggressive attitude towards the Iranian regime, another country which is very important in the regional scheme of things, and an important Indian ally. Tillerson merely said there is no contradiction.

Tillerson, who is in India on his maiden visit, held wide-ranging talks on bilateral and regional issues with the Indian leadership. His meeting with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval in the morning was followed by talks with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and finally a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

New Delhi was last on Tillerson’s itinerary after visits to Qatar, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The new regional policy

Tillerson claims that the US will not tolerate terrorist safe havens, a clear reference that the Americans want the Pakistani government to crack down on militant groups. In the same breath, he said the US wants to work with Pakistan in a positive way. He also spoke of how the growth of the many terror groups which find easy sanctuary in Pakistan could become a threat to the stability of Pakistan.

The former oil executive, who was chosen by Donald Trump to be the US' top most diplomat, says the US has made specific requests to Pakistan with extended expectations on what the US wants Pakistan to do. He added that the US administration is looking forward to not just more information sharing and mechanisms to cooperate, but also action.

Earlier, underlying India’s concerns, Swaraj had spoken of how the success of Trump’s new policy for the region depends on Pakistan’s action against terror groups. Even as no specific terror groups came up during the statements.

"India and the US discussed that no country in the world should provide safe haven to terror groups. Any country backing terrorism must be made responsible; the US’ South Asia policy can succeed only when Pakistan acts on terror groups,” Swaraj said, delivering her statement in Hindi.

India is upbeat about how the new Trump administration appreciates the positive role India has played in Afghanistan, something which was reiterated today by Tillerson where he praised India’s support to the Parliament building in Kabul and the Salma dam in Herat among other things.

Even so, there are apprehensions in New Delhi over the ongoing negotiations over the solution to Afghan problem, and about how Pakistan had made repeated efforts to keep India out.

The revival of the Quadrilateral Contact Group comprising of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the US, had also caused discomfit in Delhi.

Interestingly, India, US and Afghanistan will meet for the third Trilateral meeting in December, both the leaders announced in their press interaction today. India has continued with its focus on strengthening the bilateral ties with Afghanistan. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was in New Delhi on 24 October.

On the Trump’s administration's consistency of approach on Af-Pak, an Indian diplomat says an honest appraisal of Tillerson’s view on Pakistan needs to factor in whatever he has been saying in the last two weeks, starting from his address in Washington, something he continued at Bagram and then in Islamabad.

Defence agenda

Meanwhile, in the Indo-Pacific front, where China’s aggression has caused great duress to not just the US, but also India and Japan, Tillerson expects more convergence between India and the US and underlined how the Trump administration is glad that both of these powers are joined by Japan. Three countries which jointly take part in the Malabar Military exercise, also held a trilateral meeting recently.

Moreover, Tillerson said the US is ready to provide the best military technology to India. "The United States supports India's emergence as a leading power and will continue to contribute to Indian capabilities to provide security throughout the region," Tillerson said, as he pointed to “ambitious offers” made with respect to the F-16 and F-18 fighter jets as India looks to shore up its Air Force.

Ever since India was announced as a major defence partner, the US has been wooing India with attractive military deals. A $2 billion deal for 22 Sea Guardian drones is near completion and there were reports that it could be announced during Tillerson’s visit. India has been eyeing the drones to strengthen its navy.

James Mattis, the defence secretary who visited India in September, had reportedly assured India how US was ready to part with some of its most advanced technologies to shore up India’s defence manufacturing capabilities. This came after a report on how some of the US firms too were concerned over transfer of their proprietary technology to Indian firms.

Meanwhile, Tillerson also brought up the recent export of American crude to India, the first in four decades, and how it could boost the bilateral trade by about $2 billion. Bespoke of how a Mahindra vehicle plant will be inaugurated in Detroit, the auto hub, another first, as Mahindra and Mahindra is the only Indian automobile player with manufacturing capacity in the US.

On H1B visa, another thorn in the India-US ties, External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj repeated how India was working on a two-pronged strategy. One, to convince the Trump administration to not come up with an executive order, and two with the Congress, by reaching out to members so that there is no bill.

First published: 25 October 2017, 21:02 IST