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India can take some steps of rapprochement on issues with Pakistan: US Secretary of State

24 August, 2017

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WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, while underlining the measures the Trump administration can take to prevent Pakistan from allegedly supporting the Afghan Taliban, has also reminded India of the need to “take some steps of rapprochement” for improving ties with Pakistan.

At his Tuesday afternoon news briefing, Mr Tillerson also asked India to remove the reasons that create unstable elements inside the country.

“There are areas where perhaps even India can take some steps of rapprochement on issues with Pakistan to improve the stability within Pakistan and remove some of the reasons why they deal with these unstable elements inside their own country,” he said.

Such a veiled and meek reference to the issues that divide the two neighbours cannot persuade India to resume talks with Pakistan nor can it convince New Delhi to do some soul-searching, as Mr Tillerson suggested. But it does indicate a realisation in Washington that India does bear some responsibility for tensions in a region where President Donald Trump sees the possibility of a nuclear conflict, as he mentioned in his Monday night speech.

The secretary also did not explain why he thought India would be interested in improving stability within Pakistan, particularly when Washington endorses New Delhi’s position that all disputes between the neighbours should be resolved in bilateral talks, without any mediation. And he reiterated this position at the briefing as well, saying: “India and Pakistan, they have their own issues that they have to continue to work through.” Then he added his advice to India to help stabilise Pakistan.

Mr Tillerson said that during months-long discussion on the new South Asia strategy, US policymakers also discussed the measures they could take to persuade Pakistan to stop its alleged support to the Afghan Taliban. These include ending or reducing US aid and military assistance to Pakistan and rescinding Pakistan’s status as a non-Nato partner.

The secretary said the United States came to this conclusion because “we have witnessed terrorist organisations being given safe haven inside of Pakistan to plan and carry out attacks against US servicemen”.

“Don’t you fear that too much pressure on Pakistan may destabilise Islamabad and strengthen the Taliban?” asked a journalist.

“That is a concern, and that’s why I made the comments I just made, that I think it’s important that Pakistan begin to think about its ability to contain these groups as well,” Mr Tillerson replied.

He acknowledged that the US alone was not going to change this dynamic with Pakistan. Other regional players with strong interest in Pakistan, such as China, should join this effort, he added.

“There are many areas in which we believe we should be having very productive dialogue that serves both of our interests and regional interest as well,” Mr Tillerson said. “(But ultimately,) Pakistan has to decide what is in Pakistan’s best long-term interest from a security standpoint for themselves and for their people.”

The top US diplomat claimed that if Pakistan continued “to allow Taliban and other such organisations to grow and maintain their presence inside the country”, they would become a threat to “their stability and the survival of their government in the years ahead”.

Mr Tillerson said that Pakistan was important for the United States because Washington wanted to engage the Taliban in peace talks whenever the conditions permitted that.

“It, again, is why Pakistan is very important in this discussion as well. Pakistan can facilitate much of that discussion,” he said.

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