John Kerry softens stance on Pakistan, terrorism

US secretary of state John Kerry says ‘pretty intense’ blowback makes it hard for Pakistan to act against terrorist groups

US Secretary of State John Kerry during an interactive programme at IIT Delhi on Wednesday. Photo: PTI
US Secretary of State John Kerry during an interactive programme at IIT Delhi on Wednesday. Photo: PTI

New Delhi: In a seeming balancing act a day after he slammed Pakistan for making distinctions between “good terrorists” and “bad terrorists”, US secretary of state John Kerry on Wednesday said Pakistan itself has been a victim of terrorism and lost over 50,000 people to violent acts.

In a speech to students at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, he also spoke about a “pretty intense pushback and blowback which makes it harder” for Pakistan to act against such groups.

Kerry is in India with US commerce secretary Penny Pritzker to co-chair the India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue (S&CD).

Kerry, who was to leave on Wednesday, has postponed his departure, state department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said. “Due to his travel to China for the G-20 meeting through the weekend, Secretary Kerry will extend his stay in India,” Toner said in a statement.

On Tuesday, the two countries agreed to new steps, including US financing for an improved power grid and a cybersecurity framework. Kerry’s comments on Wednesday seemed to water down the remarks he made on Tuesday when he, seated beside foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, had said he had spoken to Pakistan about the need to dismantle safe havens for militant groups.

“It is vital that Pakistan join other nations in tackling these issues (terrorism and sanctuary for militants),” he had said on Tuesday, seeming to tacitly support India’s position that peace talks and terrorism cannot go hand in hand.

On Wednesday, Kerry said “in fairness”, Pakistan has suffered greatly from terrorism. “More than 50,000 people have been killed…people define a great religion Islam in a way that doesn’t reflect that religion. They steal it, hijack it. When Pakistan does take action, there’s usually pretty intense pushback and blowback which makes it (tackling terror) harder,” he said.

India has been critical of Pakistan and other countries casting it as a victim of terrorism, arguing Pakistan has used terrorism as an instrument of state policy and the blowback it is suffering is due to some groups nurtured by the country that are turning against it.

India says it is a victim of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism—a reference to attacks against India by Pakistan-based militant groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed.

Kerry said India and the US know the pain of terrorism and to avoid further tragedies, the intelligence agencies of the two countries are exchanging information. “We must strike at the root cause of violent extremism; the causes vary from country to country,” he said, adding, “We must build bridges of tolerance and acceptance among every religion, but in a way that’s respectful.”

Kerry also urged India to ease regulations to help attract more foreign investment as it seeks to ramp up economic growth and create jobs.

He praised efforts by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to ease norms for doing business as well as introduce tax reforms like the goods and services tax (GST). But he also questioned whether India was moving fast enough to create jobs for its people, one of the key poll promises of the government.

“Even though we are witnessing impressive gains in India’s economic growth, there is still a real question as to whether we are doing so quickly enough—and that comes down to some basic arithmetic: in order just to keep pace, India has to create 13 million jobs a year,” Kerry said. “By any standard, that is no easy task.”

Kerry noted entrepreneurs need the freedom to pursue new ideas “without a lot of red tape”. Regulations should be streamlined and sensible, he said. “You have to able to operate under conditions that attract investment capital—whether it’s foreign capital or domestic capital,” Kerry told students. “You have to have a market defined by fairness, transparency; you have to have a level playing field.”

Later on Wednesday, Kerry and Pritzker called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Modi “conveyed satisfaction at the expanded and strengthened strategic partnership between India and the US over the past two years that has opened up new vistas for collaboration. He conveyed that he looked forward to rapid progress and successful completion of the decisions taken with President Obama at the recent Summit Meeting in June,” said a statement by the prime minister’s office.

Modi said “he looked forward to meeting President (Barack) Obama at the G-20 summit in Hangzhou, China”, it added.

In his speech at IIT-Delhi, Kerry lauded India’s acceptance of a verdict by an international tribunal in the Hague, which ruled in favour of Bangladesh on a maritime boundary dispute between the two nations in 2014.

He contrasted India’s acceptance of the ruling with the actions of China, which has not accepted a verdict given by the Hague court on the South China Sea dispute. In the joint statement issued after S&CD, India and the US urged all parties to the South China Sea dispute to respect international law and urged the resolution of all disputes through peaceful means while exercising self-restraint.

“They (India and US) urged the utmost respect for international law, as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. They reiterated states should resolve disputes through peaceful means, and exercise self-restraint in conduct of activities that could complicate or escalate disputes affecting peace and stability,” the statement said, without referring to any party to the dispute by name.

An international arbitration court at the Hague last month found Beijing’s claims of historic rights to most of the South China Sea had no legal basis. Besides China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have presented competing claims over uninhabited islands and features in South China Sea.