Washington: India and the US on Monday agreed that Pakistan must take “concerted action” to dismantle terrorist infrastructure and deny safe haven to all terror groups on its soil as Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale held talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo here, the highest level meeting between the two countries after the Pulwama terror attack that escalated Indo-Pak tensions.
Gokhale arrived in the US on Sunday for the bilateral Foreign Office Consultation and Strategic Security Dialogue with his American counterparts, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale and Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson. During the meeting, Gokhale and Pompeo agreed that those who support or abet terrorism in any form should be held accountable, the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.
Pompeo was directly in touch with the leadership of India and Pakistan and monitored the developments after the Pulwama attack to ensure that the security situation in the South Asia region did not deteriorate. Gokhale and Pompeo expressed satisfaction over the significant progress and the quality of the India-US Strategic Partnership since Pompeo’s visit to India in September 2018 for the first ever Ministerial 2+2 Dialogue. The foreign secretary conveyed the appreciation to the US Government and to Pompeo personally for the firm support that India received from the US in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir.
Secretary Pompeo expressed his understanding of India’s concerns regarding cross-border terrorism. “They agreed that Pakistan needs to take concerted action to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure and to deny safe haven to all terrorist groups in its territory. They also agreed that those who support or abet terrorism in any form should be held accountable,” the statement said. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino said that in the meeting Pompeo affirmed that the US stands with the people and government of India in the fight against terrorism.
They discussed the importance of bringing those responsible for the attack to justice and the urgency of Pakistan taking meaningful action against terrorist groups operating on its soil, Palladino said. They noted the strength of Indo-US partnership and discussed ways to further enhance cooperation, including on counter-terrorism. Gokhale and Pompeo also discussed other issues of mutual interest including Afghanistan and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, US-India defence cooperation, and the growing US-India economic partnership, including joint efforts to expand bilateral trade in a balanced and reciprocal manner.
In response to Pompeo’s reference to bilateral trade matters, the foreign secretary underscored the significant reduction in trade deficit in the last three years and conveyed India’s willingness to remain engaged with the US for a meaningful and mutually acceptable package on trade issues. The trade deficit between India and the US has decreased by nearly seven per cent to USD 1.6 billion in 2018 as compared to the previous year, according to the latest official figures.
President Donald Trump recently notified Congress of his “intent to terminate” trade benefits for India and Turkey under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) eligibility criteria. India recorded a decrease in the deficit from USD 22.9 billion in 2017 to USD 21.3 billion in 2018, according to the figures revealed by the Bureau of Economy Analysis. The talks between Gokhale and Pompeo are considered significant in view of the escalated tension between India and Pakistan in the aftermath of India’s preemptive air strike on the largest terrorist training camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) in Balakot in Pakistan and the subsequent developments.
Ahead of talks between Gokhale and Pompeo, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi spoke to US National Security Advisor John Bolton over phone and briefed him about the measures taken by Islamabad to de-escalate tensions with India following the Pulwama terror attack. Tensions between India and Pakistan flared up after a suicide bomber of the Pakistan-based JeM terror group killed 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel in Kashmir’s Pulwama district.
India has provided a dossier to Pakistan, detailing the role of JeM in the Pulwama terror attack. India has also said that Pakistan has failed to take any credible action against JeM and other terrorist organisations, which continue to operate with impunity from Pakistan. Palladino, during his bi-weekly news conference last Tuesday, said Pompeo played an “essential role” in de-escalating tensions between India and Pakistan. Protocol-wise, it is quite unusual for Pompeo to meet Gokhale, but over the last few years, the US Secretary of State has met the Foreign Secretary, including his predecessor S Jaishankar.
The foreign office consultation and strategic security dialogue with the US are regular high-level dialogue mechanisms to review bilateral relations, exchange views on major foreign policy and security-related developments and coordinate respective positions on issues of common interest. Gokhale’s visit comes as India intensifies its efforts to declare Pakistan-based JeM chief Masood Azhar a global terrorist by the UN Security Council. Last month, the US, the UK and France made a fresh bid at the UN to ban Azhar. JeM is already a UN-designated terrorist organisation.