U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s is in Bangladesh for security and human rights talks amid increasing concern about terrorism in the South Asian nation in the wake of a series of extremist attacks.
Kerry, on his first trip to Bangladesh as America’s top diplomat, met in Dhaka on Monday with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Foreign Minister Abul Hassam Mahmood Ali and was later to see opposition officials and talk to students. Bangladesh is struggling to deal with the rash of attacks, the most recent of which killed 20 people, including 17 foreigners, at a popular restaurant last month in Dhaka, the capital.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Bangladeshi authorities maintain that IS has no presence in the country and that a local banned group, Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh, or JMB, was behind it.
On Saturday, police said they had killed three suspected militants, including an alleged mastermind of the cafe attack. But many of the perpetrators of a string of attacks over the past two years that have killed atheist bloggers, foreign aid workers and religious minorities remain at large.
U.S. officials say a longstanding counterterrorism dialogue has intensified in recent months and work with the Bangladeshi police and military will continue with an eye toward further cooperation.
After his brief stop in Bangladesh, Kerry will travel to India later Monday for the seventh meeting of the U.S.-India strategic dialogue, which seeks to improve security and well as economic and development ties between the nations.
This year’s discussions are taking place as tensions rise in the disputed region of Kashmir, scene of some of the largest protests against Indian rule in recent years. Since early July, at least 67 civilians have been killed and thousands injured, mostly by government forces firing bullets and shotguns at rock-throwing protesters.
Two policemen have been killed and hundreds of government forces have been injured in the clashes. On Monday, Indian authorities lifted a curfew in most parts of Indian-controlled Kashmir as part of a 52-day security lockdown but tensions persist.
India and Pakistan control parts of the Himalayan territory and claim it in its entirety. U.S. officials say Kerry will continue to urge dialogue between India and Pakistan over the dispute, the cause of two of three wars between the nations.
Many Kashmiris want an end to Indian rule and favor independence or a merger with Pakistan. More than 68,000 people have been killed since rebel groups began fighting Indian forces in 1989 and in the subsequent Indian military crackdown.
In India, Kerry will be accompanied by U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and senior officials from 12 U.S. government agencies and institutions.