By Lesley Wroughton
NEW DELHI, Aug 30 – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker began two days of talks on Tuesday with the Indian government to boost business ties, and to encourage dialogue with Pakistan over the disputed region of Kashmir.
Kerry arrived in New Delhi on Monday night for the annual U.S.-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue after a one-day stop in Bangladesh where he discussed increased militant attacks.
The situation in Indian-ruled Kashmir and concerns over Afghanistan will be raised in talks on Tuesday with National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, and on Wednesday with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a senior U.S. official said.
Kashmir is at the centre of a decades-old rivalry between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, which also rules its northern part, and backed an insurgency in the late 1980s and 1990s that Indian security forces largely crushed.
Dozens of people have been killed in violent protests in Kashmir since July 8, when security forces killed a field commander of Pakistan-based Islamist militant group who enjoyed widespread support in the Muslim-majority region.
Modi has said India would not bow to terrorism and accused neighbour and arch-rival Pakistan of glorifying it in his annual Independence Day speech on Aug. 15, in which he also raised the rhetorical stakes by highlighting concerns about human rights in restive regions of Pakistan.
New Delhi has rejected Pakistan’s invitation to hold talks on the future of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s northernmost state, saying it is an integral part of the nation. It also says any talks should address cross-border terrorism in Indian-ruled Kashmir – something Pakistan denies any role in.
A senior State Department official said Kerry will encourage dialogue between Pakistan and India during the discussions.
“We have a long-standing policy of encouraging and advocating for great dialogue between the two countries on addressing areas of difference, and that continues to be our position,” a senior State Department official said.
“But we have also underscored that combating terrorism is a high priority for the United States in its bilateral relations with all of the countries in the region,” the official added.
The situation in Afghanistan will also be discussed, the official said, amid closer ties between India and Afghanistan, which is likely to aggravate fears in Pakistan of being wedged between two hostile neighbours.
India has provided a little over $2 billion in economic assistance to Afghanistan in the last 15 years and said recently it will deliver more arms to Afghanistan.