In a significant signal to New Delhi as well as the international community, US National Security Advisor John Bolton has supported India’s “right to self-defence” against cross-border terrorism, in his phone conversation Friday night with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
Bolton’s underlying message in the conversation is being read by New Delhi as a nod to a possible retaliatory strategic response by India , including military options.
This is different from NSA in the Obama administration, Susan Rice’s conversation with Doval in September 2016, after the Uri attack. Then, the message was to exercise restraint, and that Pakistan should take action against Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba and other terror outfits.
The tone and tenor of Bolton’s phone call are different from Rice’s, and that has emboldened the Indian establishment’s strategic thinking in the last 24 hours since the phone conversation, sources said.
Incidentally, Rice’s phone call took place just hours before India conducted surgical strikes along the Line of Control in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
According to a statement by the Ministry of External Affairs Saturday, Bolton expressed condolences and “outrage” over the Pulwama attack Thursday in which 40 CRPF personnel were killed when a suicide bomber struck a convoy in J&K. Jaish has claimed responsibility for the attack.
“Ambassador Bolton supported India’s right to self-defence against cross-border terrorism. He offered all assistance to India to bring the perpetrators and backers of the attack promptly to justice. NSA Doval appreciated U.S. support,” said the MEA statement.
“The two NSAs vowed to work together to ensure that Pakistan cease to be a safe haven for JeM and terrorist groups that target India, the U.S. and others in the region. They resolved to hold Pakistan to account for its obligations under UN resolutions and to remove all obstacles to designating JeM leader Masood Azhar as a global terrorist under the UN Security Council Resolution 1267 Committee process,” said the statement said. The US had co-sponsored the resolution, along with France and UK, to list Azhar in 2017, which was blocked by China.
“I told Ajit Doval today that we support India’s right to self-defence. I have spoken to him twice, including this morning… and expressed the US’ condolences over the terrorist attack,” Bolton told PTI in Washington.
He also said the US has been very clear to Pakistan on ending support to terrorist safe havens. “We have been very clear on that score… And, we are continuing to be in discussions we are going to have with the Pakistanis,” he said.
On Twitter, Bolton said: “I expressed condolences to NSA Doval yesterday for the reprehensible terrorist attack on India. Pakistan must crack down on JeM and all terrorists operating from its territory. Countries should uphold UNSC responsibilities to deny safe haven and support for terrorists”, and then tagged a handle managed by Doval’s “followers and fans” @nsaajit.
In September 2016, the US National Security Council Spokesperson, Ned Price had said in a statement that Rice spoke to Doval and strongly condemned the September 18 cross-border attack on the Indian Army Brigade headquarters in Uri and offered condolences to the victims and their families.
“Ambassador Rice affirmed President Obama’s commitment to redouble our efforts to bring to justice the perpetrators of terrorism throughout the world. Highlighting the danger that cross-border terrorism poses to the region, Ambassador Rice reiterated our expectation that Pakistan take effective action to combat and delegitimize United Nations-designated terrorist individuals and entities, including Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad, and their affiliates. In the context of the robust U.S.-India partnership, Ambassador Rice discussed our shared commitment with India to pursuing peace and regional stability and pledged to deepen collaboration on counterterrorism matters including on UN terrorist designations.”
However, this time, the signal from Washington, both from the US administration and the US Congress, was swift, stronger and much larger in scale. This is significant since the White House and the US Congress are at odds with each other.
And, that has been visible with statements from the US. While US Ambassador to India, Kenneth Juster was the first ambassador in New Delhi to tweet support to India on Thursday evening, the White House and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have also asked Pakistan to end its support to terrorist safe havens inside the country.
“We stand with India as it confronts terrorism. Pakistan must not provide safe haven for terrorists to threaten international security,” Pompeo said on Twitter.
In a stern message to Pakistan, the White House asked Islamabad to “immediately end” its “support” to all terror groups and not to provide “safe haven” to them, as the US condemned the brutal Pulwama terror attack.
“The United States calls on Pakistan to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil, whose only goal is to sow chaos, violence, and terror in the region,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a late night statement on Thursday.
Top US lawmakers have rallied behind India’s effort to fight terrorism and said that such heinous crimes will not weaken the resolve of its people.
So far, more than 70 American lawmakers including 15 Senators have condemned the attack.