WASHINGTON: There was a time not so long ago when a US cabinet member or high official visiting Islamabad and New Delhi on the same trip to the region would have irked India and invited grumbling about American hyphenation of the two countries. But such is the rapidly evolving nature of ties between Washington and New Delhi, seen in some quarters as being just short of a formal alliance, that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is not only touching down in Islamabad on his way to New Delhi on Tuesday, he’s also tailing Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani in to the Indian capital after an unannounced stopover in Kabul+ for what could end up as a trilateral US-India-Afghanistan meeting aimed at bringing Pakistan to heel+ .
The schedule, and even more, statements preceding and accompanying his travels to the region, tell the story of the new American strategy for the region under President Trump, fairly transparently. The US, India, and Afghanistan want Pakistan and its terrorist proxies to butt out of the war-ravaged country; all three hold Pakistan and its military responsible for the decades-long crisis because of Islamabad’s neurotic search for strategic depth against India. And all three are working together to sideline Pakistan after its toxic role in the region, partly with Chinese help.
Tillerson himself offered a blunt preview of his agenda for the Islamabad visit saying the US now has a “conditions-based” approach with regards to Pakistan, and the Trump administration had made some “very specific requests” of Islamabad to undermine its support for terrorist groups. “We are concerned about future stability of Pakistan as much as Afghanistan. Pakistan needs to take a clear-eyed view of the situation they are confronted with,” he said. In Washington, a senior administration official bluntly stated that Afghanistan needed India’s help primarily so that the state can be “hardened and strengthened against any regenerative capacity of the Taliban which lies mainly across the border in Pakistan.”