Visiting US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday suggested that the US and India partner to build road connectivity in the sub-continent and port connectivity in the Indo-Pacific, as a sort of alternative to the Chinese One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative.
Secretary Tillerson shared with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and national security advisor Ajit Doval his detailed assessment of the countries — Afghanistan, Pakistan, Qatar and Iraq — that he had visited during his current trip. He also communicated that he had given a strong message to Pakistan that safe havens for terrorists and terror groups must be eradicated. He had nearly a two-hour meeting with NSA Doval, a working thali lunch for 90 minutes with Swaraj and a 30-minute conversation with PM Modi.
However, the key point of Tillerson engagement was that the two biggest democracies in the world should join hands in providing a rule based and transparent funding alternative to the OBOR in the region. In this context, Tillerson pushed for road connectivity in Bangladesh and Afghanistan so that even Pakistan is inclined to participate in the move, a person familiar with the matter said, asking not to be identified.
One Belt, One Road is a Chinese initiative to build a “Silk Road” of ports, railways and roads linking Asia, Africa and Europe. India’s primary opposition to OBOR is that one of its key legs runs through the disputed Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
According to an Indian diplomat who asked not to be identified, Tillerson also pitched for increased cooperation between the two countries in the Indo-Pacific region so as to uphold rule-based rights of navigation and overflight in the area.
The US secretary of state and PM Modi agreed to speed up the decision-making process and scope of the bilateral relationship, the diplomat added, with the former offering help to enhance India’s military capabilities and capacities. He repeated the offer of F-18 and F-16 fighters, one C-17 heavy lift transport aircraft and Guardian drones to Swaraj. “Secretary Tillerson said that there are some good ideas and proposals on the bilateral table and it should not be a case of lost opportunities,” the diplomat added.
With NSA Doval, Tillerson shared details of the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and the future steps for political stability of the region and the need to militarily defang the Taliban before onset of any political negotiations with the Ashraf Ghani regime in Afghanistan.