US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday said that India is emerging as a very important regional strategic partner for the United States that can help modernise Afghanistan both politically and economically. Tillerson’s remarks came after President Donald Trump unveiled the US strategy in Afghanistan which included expanded authorities to target terrorists.
“India is emerging as a very important regional strategic partner with the United States, and has played an important role supporting the Afghan government and in particular supporting their economy,” Tillerson told media persons.
He also praised India’s role in Afghanistan.
“India has provided development assistance. They’ve provided economic assistance. They are hosting an important economic conference in India this next week. All of that is important to stabilising Afghanistan as a nation,” he said.
“Get their economy functioning, stabilise the country so that they can provide more opportunities to their citizens. These are all elements of what will lead to stability and ultimately a peace agreement,” he said.
Tillerson also warned that the US could consider punishing Pakistan by cutting off its status as a major non-NATO ally if it does not crack down on militants.
Tillerson echoed President Donald Trump’s tough rhetoric on Pakistan in his address laying out a new strategy for the war Afghanistan.
“We stand ready to help Pakistan address terrorist organisations inside of their country, but they must adopt a different approach themselves,” Tillerson told reporters at a news conference here.
His comments came after Trump announced his Afghan policy and the path forward to the US engagement in South Asia, India and Pakistan in particular.
“Pakistan and the US historically had very good relationships. But over the last few years, there’s been a real erosion in the confidence between our two governments.
“There’s been an erosion in trust because we have witnessed terrorist organisations being given safe haven inside of Pakistan to plan and carry out attacks against US servicemen, US officials, disrupting peace efforts inside of Afghanistan,” Tillerson said.
Responding to a question, the Secretary of State sought the help of India in changing Pakistan’s behaviour.
“It is important that Pakistan begin to think about its ability to contain these groups as well. It’s why, though, we take a regional approach. The US alone is not going to change this dynamic with Pakistan,” he said.
“India and Pakistan, they have their own issues that they have to continue to work through. But I think there are areas where perhaps even India can take some steps, a 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,” Tillerson said.
According to the Secretary of State, other regional players have strong interest in Pakistan. “China has strong interest in Pakistan. Having a stable, secure future Pakistan is in a lot of our interests. They are a nuclear power. We have concerns about their weapons, the security of their weapons. There are many areas in which we believe we should be having very productive dialogue that serves both of our interests and regional interests as well,” Tillerson said.
Noting that the new Afghan policy is a regional approach, the Secretary of State said it also included a fairly comprehensive review of the US’ ties with Pakistan and India.
“We see this approach as requiring an integration of all three of those strategies and use Pakistan and India to also bring pressure to bear on the situation in Afghanistan,” he said.
Tillerson said that the Trump Administration is adopting conditions-based diplomacy.
“We’re going to condition our efforts along with the progress we see being made by the Afghan government who must continue the reform efforts that we’ve been working on for some time, and in particular, much more rigorous efforts around anti-corruption,” he said.
Trump, he said, in his speech was clear that this entire effort is intended to put pressure on the Taliban to have the Taliban understand they will not win a battlefield victory.
“We’re going to attack terrorists wherever the live and we have put people on notice that if you’re harbouring and providing safe haven to terrorists, be warned, be forewarned that we’re going to engage with those who are providing safe haven and ask them to change what they’re doing and help us help them,” Tillerson said.
Tillerson also acknowledged that Pakistan?s status as a non-NATO ally is now in question.
“We have some leverage that’s been discussed in terms of the amount of aid and military assistance we give them; their status as a non-NATO alliance partner. All of that can be put on the table. But at the end of the day, Pakistan has to decide what is in Pakistan’s best long-term interest from a security standpoint for themselves and for their people,” he said.
He said the Taliban and other organisations inside of Pakistan seem to be growing their numbers and their presence to the point that at some point they would become a real threat to the stability of the Pakistani government itself.
“I think they need to be thinking about what is in their best long-term interest and how can we work with them to achieve a safer, more stable Pakistan in the next decades to come as well. I think it really is up to them. They’ve got to ask themselves that question,” Tillerson said.