Tillerson in India to highlight US strategy in S. Asia

Muneeza Naqvi and Alex Brandon
Associated Press

New Delhi — Combating terrorism and India’s role in war-torn Afghanistan dominated talks between U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Indian counterpart Wednesday as Tillerson highlighted the Trump administration’s new strategy for South Asia.

Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said India had agreed to hold talks on Afghanistan with Washington and Kabul.

Tillerson, who arrived in New Delhi after stops in Kabul and Islamabad, said he conveyed to Pakistan’s leaders “certain expectations” that the Trump administration had about controlling terror groups that operate from its soil. He added that too many terror groups had found a safe place in Pakistan to launch attacks against others.

Tillerson held talks Tuesday with Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Foreign Minister Khwaja Mohammad Asif and the heads of the army and intelligence services.

U.S. officials have long accused Pakistan of turning a blind eye or assisting the Afghan Taliban and the allied Haqqani network. New Delhi has also long blamed its neighbor and archrival of supporting terror groups that have launched attacks inside India, including a three-day attack in India’s business capital, Mumbai, in 2008 that left 166 people dead after 10 gunman rampaged through parts of the city.

India also blames Pakistan for aiding and training rebels who operate in the Himalayan region of Kashmir, which is divided between the two nations but claimed by both. Pakistan routinely denies colluding with militants.

President Donald Trump’s new strategy for the region “can only be successful if Pakistan acts decisively against terror groups” that operate from its territory, Swaraj said in her comments to reporters in New Delhi.

Tillerson added that the presence of such groups on Pakistani soil was also a threat to “Pakistan’s own stability.”

Tillerson and Swaraj also stressed the close relationship and shared values between the U.S. and India, the world’s two largest democracies. Both promised to work closely on matters of security and to enhance defense and economic cooperation.

Swaraj was also questioned about India’s relationship with North Korea, where India has an embassy and with which it does a small amount of trade. The United States is working to isolate North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.

Swaraj said she discussed the matter with Tillerson and assured him that India’s trade with North Korea had dwindled so much that it was “minuscule.”

She said she told Tillerson that New Delhi was of the view that it was beneficial to everyone, including the United States, that a friendly embassy was in place in Pyongyang to help keep “some channel of communication open” with the largely isolated country.

Tillerson was expected to meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi later Wednesday. His visit also underscores the administration’s belief that India is a critical anchor in a regional strategy for the Indian and Pacific Oceans to blunt an increasingly assertive China.

In an address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, Tillerson said last week that the world needs the U.S. and India to have a strong partnership as he pointedly criticized China, which he accused of challenging international norms needed for global stability.

The U.S. sees China as operating outside global rules-based norms as it grows in economic and military might.