WASHINGTON/ NEW DELHI: Pakistan needs to join other nations in fighting terrorists within its borders, US Secretary of State John Kerry urged on Tuesday, saying Islamabad should not feel isolated by talks between the United States, India and Afghanistan next month in New York.
“It is vital that Pakistan join with other nations in tackling this challenge,” Kerry told a joint news conference in the Indian capital Tuesday evening where he is on a two-day visit for the annual US-India strategic dialogue.
He also announced talks between the United States, India and Afghanistan next month in New York, saying Islamabad should not feel isolated by them. His show of support for his Indian hosts marked a change from Washington’s usual neutrality towards nuclear-tipped neighbours India and Pakistan.
Tensions between Pakistan and India have spiked recently, as an uprising in Indian-controlled Kashmir have left over 70 people dead and thousands injured with New Delhi virtually rejecting Islamabad’s advances for exclusive talks.
Pakistan and India each claim the disputed Himalayan state of Kashmir in full but rule it only in part. Washington has long urged India and Pakistan to reopen talks to resolve the tensions and Kerry is expected to discuss the issue with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday.
At the news conference, Kerry denounced terrorism in all its forms stating that perpetrators of attacks on Indian soil - in Mumbai in 2008 and at the Pathankot airbase in January 2016 - should be brought to justice.
“We cannot and will not make distinctions between good and bad terrorists," Kerry said. “Terror is terror no matter where it comes from, (or) who carries it out.”
India accuses Pakistan of responsibility for both attacks. Pakistan is trying suspects in the Mumbai attacks, in which 166 people died. Investigations into the Pathankot attack have so far been inconclusive.
India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj struck a similar note, saying there was a ‘meeting of minds’ between her and Kerry on terrorism, which she described as the foremost threat to international peace and security.
“I briefed Secretary Kerry on the continuing problem of cross-border terrorism that India and the larger region faces from Pakistan.”
However, she remained coy on reopening talks with Pakistan, claiming India was not the one creating tensions.
"We told them [Pakistan] we want to solve our problems through talks," she said, "But they did things that forced us to suspend the dialogue. The least we expect is there should be action against the perpetrators. Talks can only happen if there is action on their side."
Her comments, however, come days after India turned down Pakistan’s offer of exclusive talks to discuss the longstanding Kashmir dispute by trying to limit the dialogue to cross-border terrorism in the disputed Himalayan valley.
Kerry said the US would open the trilateral talks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York next month with the aim of stabilising Afghanistan.
He said the US was working to address tensions in Afghanistan's fragile coalition of President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. India's participation in the talks, Kerry added, could only help strengthen those efforts and underscore to the Afghan leaders the importance of a stable and unified Afghanistan.
"My hope is that Pakistan as a country is not isolated by this but is encouraged by this," he said.
The US official revealed that he had spoken to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif about the need for Islamabad to deprive any group of ‘sanctuary’. “It is vital that Pakistan join with other nations in tackling this challenge, and in fairness in recent weeks and months they have been moving more authoritatively in the western part of the country.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 31st, 2016.