U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry avoided associating Pakistan with terrorism and instead advised India to deepen bilateral trade ties with its neighbour. On his first visit after taking over as Secretary of State, Mr. Kerry hoped the two countries build up enough trust to start investing in each other’s economies so that “others could invest in you,” he said in a reference to the hostility between the two countries that keeps many potential investors away.
Mr. Kerry arrived here for the fourth Indo-US Strategic Dialogue that is chaired by the foreign ministers of both countries. Departing from his predecessor Hillary Clinton’s line of commiserating with the victims of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, he opted to sympathise with the victims of the Uttarakhand flash floods instead.
His stance on India-Pakistan ties, articulated during a 45-minute speech this evening, left Indian diplomats displeased because Mr. Kerry has the perception of being soft on Pakistan unlike Ms. Clinton. Diplomats will now wait for the joint statement to be released after his strategic dialogue with External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on Monday to see if it will mention “safe havens of terrorism”, a euphemism to anti-Kabul elements based in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas such as South Waziristan and Khyber on the Af-Pak border.
Mr. Kerry also said improved India-Pakistan ties are a catalyst for promoting regional trade and connectivity, which in turn could turn around Afghanistan’s fortunes. Last year, India-Pakistan trade had gone up by 21 per cent, but Mr. Kerry said there was still a long way to go. Both countries have had an acrimonious past but there is a new leadership in place in Islamabad which has indicated that economical revival is its number one priority. This approach could mark the “beginning of a new era” and “hopefully improve trust.” While half of his speech was devoted to clean energy and how India needs to be proactive, Mr. Kerry also touched on Afghanistan. India and the U.S. differ on holding talks with the Taliban leadership.
Mr. Kerry sought to draw New Delhi’s attention to next year’s presidential elections in Afghanistan that could mark the first-ever peaceful transition of leadership in recent history. The U.S. wants Taliban to renounce violence, break its ties with Al Qaida and accept the Afghan Constitution before any settlement with the group could be taken up, he said.