At a time when India has been fuming over the US's talks offer to the Taliban, secretary of state John Kerry on Sunday tried to allay New Delhi's apprehensions, saying there can't be any compromise with the 'red lines' or the internationally recognized guidelines for engagement with the insurgent group.
Stating that the US would remain committed to lasting peace in Afghanistan and work "through diplomacy" even after the end of Nato missions by December 2014, Kerry said the country could not again become a safe haven for terrorism.
Kerry called for New Delhi to play a central role in the next Afghan elections and "improve its electoral system and create a credible and independent framework for resolving disputes". Kerry landed in Delhi - on his first visit to India as secretary of state - on Sunday for the fourth round of the India-US strategic dialogue.
While Kerry circumvented all recent hiccups in ties to deliver what experts called a very positive policy speech on the state of the strategic partnership, he may have ruffled a few feathers when he sought to draw parity between India and Pakistan by saying the international community will invest in them "if they can confidently invest in each other". This was as he exhorted India to acknowledge that "a new dynamic has emerged in Pakistan" after the victory of Nawaz Sharif.
Kerry reached out to India saying both countries were committed and related "more than ever before" in handling all three important issues faced by them - economic, climate change and security.
Kerry said any political settlement in Afghanistan must ensure that Taliban shun violence, snap ties with Al Qaeda and accept the Afghan constitution which ensures protection for "all Afghan men and women". He did not mention the Haqqani network whose likely participation in peace talks has alarmed India.
On Pakistan, Kerry urged India to reengage with the neighbouring country and further increase its trade and commerce ties. "I know the two countries have a past and I am not naive about it. But a new dynamic has emerged. Sharif has said that his chief goal is revival of Pakistan's economy and that is our goal too," he said, adding that this could lead to the beginning of a new chapter.
Shunning all doubts about the US pivot to Asia, Kerry described India as a "key partner" of the US "rebalance" in Asia. He said the US remained committed to its rebalance policy in Asia and valued India's role in ensuring a stable Asia even as he maintained that India and the US should come together as partners and not as a threat to any country.
Experts were unanimous that this signaled there wasn't any change in the US Asia-Pacific focus as announced earlier. "The only change is that he has replaced the word pivot with rebalance," said Lalit Mansingh, former Indian ambassador to the US.
"The US too has major concerns about some of our trade policies and the nuclear issue but he kept those at length and delivered a very positive speech," he added.
In his speech, Kerry invoked the writings of American writer Mark Twain on several occasions and used the Hindi proverb "ek aur ek gyarah hote hain" as he sought support from India to shore up the economy and deal with issues related to climate change.
"The world's largest democracy and the world's oldest democracy must do more together uniting, not as a threat to any country, but as partners building a strong, smart future in a critical age," he said.