It was a little surprising for many foreign policy analysts when Rex Tillerson, the United States Secretary of State, signed the designation of Hizbul Mujahideen as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in July this year. Then in August, US President Donald Trump surprised South Asia, particularly Pakistan and China – when he asked India to play a larger role in the Afghanistan peace process and demanded Islamabad to shut terror activities from its soil.
Last week, Tillerson ensured the earlier two gestures from the US- the designation of Hizbul Mujahideen and seeking Indian cooperation in Afghanistan – were way more than just situation-based decisions. In his address before the visit to Indian subcontinent, Tillerson put New Delhi at the heart of his maiden tour to the reason.
The US Secretary of State showered much praise on India and highlighted the cooperation, and more importantly, issued warning-like statements for Pakistan. Consider this one example from his speech: “In July, I signed the designation of Hizbul Mujahideen as a Foreign Terrorist Organization because the United States and India stand shoulder-to-shoulder against terrorism.” His remark was nothing less than a departure from the US’ earlier stance, where it shied away from even issuing ostensible references to Pakistan on terrorism. He continued: “States that use terror as an instrument of policy will only see their international reputation and standing diminish. It is the obligation, not the choice, of every civilized nation to combat the scourge of terrorism. The United States and India are leading this effort in that region.”
Tillerson went beyond bilateral issues, saying America wanted to be India’s most “reliable partner” in an increasingly uncertain world. In a special reference, he affirmed that India and America “are two bookends of stability on either side of the globe” with shared political values and converging economic interests.
In his talks with Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj today, Tillerson categorically mentioned Pakistan government. In what made top headlines in Islamabad, Tillerson said terror groups operating in Pakistan were threatening the stability and security of the government. Tillerson said: “There are too many terror organisations that find a safe haven in Pakistan. We have explained to them certain expectations we have from Pakistan in dealing with these organisations. We also are concerned about the stability and security of the Pakistan government because these terror organisations have grown and this threatens the country’s stability.”
While the US expression is undoubtedly unprecedented for New Delhi in its fight against Pakistan-backed terrorism, it remains to be seen how US would even initiate distancing itself with Pakistan, given the latter’s historical strategic support to Washington, particularly in Afghanistan.