Rex Tillerson's visit to focus on Indo-Pacific, Pakistan

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani wave before their luncheon talks in New Delhi on Tuesday. (Photo: PTI)
Discussions between US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who arrived in New Delhi on Tuesday evening, and the Indian leadership are likely to see a congruence of views on the situation in South Asia and the need to strengthen security collaboration in the Indo-Pacific area. 

The two countries have also expressed similar concerns on China’s One Belt, One Road infrastructure initiative. Tillerson is also expected to discuss with the Indian leadership cooperation in defence, counterterrorism, security, energy and trade. 

Tillerson is the second high-ranking official of the Donald Trump administration to visit India in last two months. US Defense Secretary James Mattis visited India last month.

The US secretary of state is scheduled to call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and hold talks with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. He leaves India on Thursday morning, the Ministry of External Affairs said.

Tillerson had made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Monday and spent four hours in Pakistan on Tuesday. In Kabul, he met Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, who was in New Delhi on Tuesday.

The Trump administration has been critical of Pakistan for providing safe haven to terrorists. In Kabul, he said the Trump administration believed India can play a positive role in creating a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. The Trump administration wants New Delhi’s assistance in capacity building in Afghanistan.

In a major India policy speech, Tillerson said last week the US was India’s “reliable partner” at the world stage in this period of uncertainty and angst. He had said China’s actions were “posing a challenge to the rules-based international order". He had also spoken of a 100-year strategic partnership with India in the region, and had commented at the gains of the trilateral cooperation between the US, India and Japan, with the need to include Australia as well.

In New Delhi on Tuesday, Prime Minister Modi and visiting Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani stressed, in a reference to Pakistan, on the need to close cross-border sanctuaries for terrorists. They also had a detailed one-on-one discussion, a restricted meeting and a working lunch, a statement by the external affairs ministry said.

“The efforts for early operationalisation of the Chabahar port, including the shipments of wheat in coming weeks to Afghanistan through the port, was considered as a step that would shape new trade and transit opportunities for landlocked Afghanistan," the statement said. The Indian side reiterated the readiness of its integrated check post at Attari to receive Afghan trucks carrying goods.

Later in an address at the Vivekananda International Foundation, Ghani said if Afghanistan was not given transit access to Wagah and Attari for trade with India via Pakistan, Kabul would also restrict Islamabad’s access to Central Asia. He attacked Pakistan for providing unfettered support to terror groups.

Ghani said the South Asia strategy announced by the Trump administration was a “game changer” as it recommended multi-dimensional condition-based approach for the region. 

“It (the strategy) singled out India for engagement in this approach."

On defence cooperation, he said: “Our collaboration with India is very open. We are delighted with the four helicopters (received from India). More Mi-35 helicopters are welcome."

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