Kerry softens stance on Pakistan, terrorism

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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.

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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 G20 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 from 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. 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.”

TNS

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