US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Islamabad on a four-hour visit Tuesday and met top officials including PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa before leaving for New Delhi. The visit to Pakistan, his first since becoming secretary of state, comes after an unannounced stop in Afghanistan, where he stressed America’s commitment to the country, and said the US has made “some very specific requests” to Pakistan to deal with the Taliban.
Islamabad must take tangible action “to undermine the support that the Taliban and other terrorist organisations receive in Pakistan … and take a clear-eyed view of the situation,” he warned. While the insurgent group needs to know it will never win “a military victory, ... there’s a place for them in the government if they’re ready to come renouncing terrorism ... and (are) committed to a stable, prosperous Afghanistan,” he said, noting that there were elements in the Taliban that “do not want to continue to fight forever ... So we are looking to engage with those voices.”
He also declared that the US believes India has a very important and positive role to achieve a peaceful, stable Afghanistan. This is unlikely to go down well in Islamabad, which continues to see the landlocked and strife-torn nation as its strategic backyard, and vehemently resents any Indian involvement there. The love-hate relationship between US and Pakistan has seen some dramatic swings since Donald Trump took office in January, particularly after the US president, announcing his South Asia policy in August, lambasted Pakistan for offering safe havens to “agents of chaos”.
However, India should also take notice of both Trump and Tillerson’s repeated assertions that Washington believed in ‘transactional’ relationships. In this case, it means greater Indian involvement in the Asia-Pacific region, including the South China Sea, where Beijing has taken an increasingly muscular position. Is New Delhi ready for that?