In a daily press briefing of the US State Department held on September 29 in Washington, D.C., the spokesperson John Kirby answered questions on tensions between India and Pakistan from Nike Chang of Voice of America, Lalit Jha of Press Trust of India and [Raghubir] Goyal.
India on Thursday said it conducted “surgical strikes” on “terrorist launch pads” in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir along the Line of Control, a claim that Pakistan rejected. The country is maintaining that two soldiers were killed in “Indian unprovoked firing” along three sectors of the LoC.
Excerpts from the briefing:
Do you have anything on the Indians surgical strikes against the militants along the borders with Pakistan?
Hang on a second.
Mr. Kirby, are you not going to take my question on Syria?
I’m going to answer her question and then I’ll be happy to answer yours.
So Nike, we’ve seen those reports. We’re following the situation closely, as I think you can understand. We also understand that the Indian and Pakistani militaries have been in communication. We believe that continued communication is obviously important to reduce tensions.
We’ve repeatedly expressed our concerns regarding the danger that terrorism poses to the region. And we all know that terrorism, in many ways, knows no border. We continue to urge actions to combat and delegitimise terrorist groups like LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba] and the Haqqani Network, Jaish-e-Mohammad. So this is something that we’re obviously keenly focused on. Okay?
Was there any prior consultation between the United States and India before the surgical strikes? I’m asking this because some media reports point out that secretary Kerry has spoken to his counterpart and Susan Rice also spoke to her counterpart. So can you give us some –
I can confirm for you that the secretary spoke with the – on the 27th, so earlier this week, with Indian external affairs minister Swaraj and reiterated his strong condemnation of the September 18th Uri attack. He condemned terrorism in all its forms and he cautioned against any escalation in tensions. Okay?
After the second US and India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue last month, what specific steps have been taken to strengthen cooperation on fighting terrorism between these two countries?
This is something we’re always working at with our partners in the region. We’re always trying to get better at combatting terrorism in the region. And there are many ways you can do that – through information-sharing regimens and increasing – like we said, increasing communication between all parties involved. So I don’t have a specific laundry list here to read out to you, because, frankly, it’s something that we’ve been constantly working at with our partners in the region.
You said secretary Kerry had cautioned against escalation. Was this attack an escalation?
I’m not going to characterise it. Obviously, it’s – I mean, obviously an attack like that escalates tensions. But what I don’t want to do is try to get into some sort of broad characterisation, one way or the other. But obviously an attack like this is horrific. And –
No, but the Indian response – is that – would that – is that the kind of escalation that secretary Kerry was warning against?
Oh, I thought you were talking about the Uri attack.
Well, look, again, we – our message to both sides has been the same, in terms of encouraging them to increase communication to deal with this threat and to avoid steps that escalate the tensions. And I’m – I think I’m not going to get into characterising each and every step along the way there. But obviously, what we want to see is increased cooperation against what is a very shared common threat for both countries, and to see steps being taken to deal with it by all sides.
Hang on, hang on. Hang on, hang on. Since we’re on India/Pakistan, we’ll go here – I’ll go – I’ll get you Goyal, all right? All right? Go here.
Yeah. Since this was a counterterrorism operation and there is strong coordination between India and the US on counterterrorism issues, was there any coordination on this strike by the Indian forces?
I just don’t have anything for you on that. And as you know, I don’t talk about the specifics of military matters.
And when secretary spoke to India’s external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, on [September] 27, did he get any indication that India was going ahead with this kind of strike?
I just don’t have anything for you on that. I’ve read out the call to the level of detail that I’m going to.
So there has been one call or two calls?
Yeah, I’ve seen reports of two calls.
There was a technical issue on the first call, so they had to arrange a second call to complete it. So was there two calls? Yes, there were two calls, but it was really one conversation.
Yes, sir. Thank you very much. Two questions. One, Ambassador Richard Verma was in Washington. Suddenly, he had to cancel everything, and he rushed back to Delhi. What was the reason and who he was going to meet, or if he rushed from here back to Delhi, was he carrying any message from the secretary or from this building?
He did have to reschedule his event at the Wilson Centre and, as far as I know, he’s returning to New Delhi. My understanding is that he believed that it was appropriate for him to go back. And I mean, he’s a – he’s got a big job, there’s a lot of responsibilities that come with it, and obviously it’s a very dynamic situation, and he felt it was prudent to go back. And we support that.
He’s doing a great job. And my second question is that, in recent days —
I’ll tell him you said so. (Laughter.)
Prime Minister Modi, he spoke about one thing – what he had a great message for the people of Pakistan that Pakistan and India both got freedom on the same day, but Pakistan is supporting terrorism, India is supporting ITs, engineers, and doctors around the globe. And what he said is Pakistan still has camps inside Pakistan who are attacking India. And finally, he said less attacks or fight against terrorism, hunger, and poverty; not against each other, each other peoples and let’s have a development. Any message that you may have for Pakistan on this or what Prime Minister Modi said?
My message is the same as it was when Nike asked me about it. I mean, we understand that both militaries are in communication; we encourage that. We’ve expressed repeatedly our concerns about the danger of terrorism, cross-border terrorism, as well, in the region, and we continue to urge actions to combat and delegitimise groups like LeT and the Haqqani Network and Jaish-e-Mohammad. I mean, these – as I’ve said many times in answer to you, Goyal, these are shared common threats that everybody in the region faces. And we believe it’s important for everybody in the region – and we’re obviously willing to, and have proven, willing to contribute to those efforts – to take that on, to take that on as a shared regional challenge.
And one more quickly, if you may I – thank you. Across the street today, US-India Security Council, a non-profit organisation, they had a high-class official from the Pentagon and other people also from the State Department. What they said that India and US relations have gone – have come from far away and they are moving forward and they are not now, nobody can stop them. So do you agree that future of India-US relations, what – according to their views and comments today?
I haven’t seen those comments. That’s the first I’ve heard of it. What I would tell you is that we remain deeply committed to the bilateral relationship with India and to advancing it on – across virtually all sectors of public and private enterprise, and that I think you’re going to see us remain committed to that. Okay?
Just one – John –
We’ll go to Syria. Let’s –
Just one on Pakistan.
All right, and then I’ll go to you.
Has there been any calls made from – any high-level calls made to Pakistani leadership on the need to de-escalate tension in the region?
I don’t have any calls to announce or read out to you.