NEW DELHI — U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that "too many terrorist organizations" find refuge in Pakistan and reiterated his call for the country to do more to address a growing problem of terrorism within its borders that, he said, threatensto destabilize Pakistan itself.
“There are too many terrorist organizations that find a safe place in Pakistan from which to conduct their operations and attacks against other countries,” Tillerson said, speaking in India’s capital on the final stop of a tour through the Middle East and South Asia. The extremist groups’ growing strength and capability “can lead to a threat to Pakistan’s own stability,” he said.
At a news conference at India’s Ministry of External Affairs, Tillerson said that in a meeting Tuesday with Pakistan’s interim prime minister, its army chief and other leaders in Islamabad, he had outlined “certain expectations” of “mechanisms of cooperation” that Pakistan must fulfill to address the problem or face U.S. reprisals. Pakistan’s government has long denied the existence of havens for terrorist groups.
Later, Tillerson met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The two discussed terrorism and regional security, according to a ministry statement.
Pakistan has been mired in political turmoil since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was ousted by the country’s Supreme Court in a financial scandal in July. His close ally, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, is serving as interim prime minister.
Tillerson’s arrival in India — his first trip to the country as secretary of state — comes at a time when the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is increasingly under strain and the Trump administration seeks a closer relationship with “natural ally” India, the world’s most populous democracy and one of the United States’ biggest arms buyers.
The warm welcome for Tillerson in India — where he toured a memorial to Mohandas Gandhi, the revered leader of the country's independence movement — was a contrast to the chilly reception he had received in Pakistan's capital the day before. There, one prominent politician said Tillerson was "acting like a viceroy," a reference to leaders of the British Raj.
India’s minister of external affairs, Sushma Swaraj, echoed Tillerson’s criticism of Pakistan. Recent terrorist attacks in Afghanistan “are proof that safe havens and supporters of terrorism are active,” she said. “Pakistan needs to act on this.”
Swaraj also said that she and Tillerson discussed India’s relationship with North Korea. India maintains an embassy in Pyongyang but has moved to put new limits on bilateral trade. Swaraj said she told Tillerson that the embassy should remain “so that some channels of communication are kept open.”
Earlier this month, in a major policy speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Tillerson spoke of India and the United States as "bookends of stability on either side of the globe" amid the terrorist threat, North Korea's nuclear posturing and Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea.
"This is a signal to India that despite Trump's penchant to jettison or discard Obama policies, there will be a certain amount of continuity in the relationship," said C. Uday Bhaskar, director of the Society for Policy Studies in New Delhi.
Pakistan is a concern, Bhaskar said, "but the big ticket is China, and what kind of Asia is in the best interests of both India and the U.S. in the long term. He spoke of 100 years."