WASHINGTON: The Uni­ted States maintains close ties with both Pakistan and India because they help reduce tensions between South Asia’s two nuclear-armed neighbours, says US Secretary of State John Kerry.

A transcript released on Sunday shows Secretary Kerry arguing in two recent congressional hearings that the US has been working “really hard” to advance a “rapprochement” between Islamabad and New Delhi.

In one of the statements he indirectly confirmed media reports that the US had been quietly encouraging the two prime ministers to hold bilateral talks.

“We encourage that. I think it’s required to encourage both leaders to engage in the dialogue that they’ve engaged in,” he said.

“And needless to say, we don’t want to do things that upset the balance. But we do believe that Pakistan is engaged legitimately in a very tough fight against identifiable terrorists in their country that threaten Pakistan,” he argued.

Secretary Kerry noted that Pakistan has deployed “about 150,000 to 180,000 troops” along the Pak-Afghan border.

US defence experts fear that increase in tensions with India could force Pakistan to bring some of those troops to its eastern border, allowing the Taliban to move freely in and out of Afghanistan.

The US is finding it difficult to balance its relations with India and Pakistan even as a high-powered Pakis­tani delegation reached here on Sunday for a strategic dialogue that seeks to enhance Islama­bad’s relations with Washington.

Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz leads the delegation, which also includes Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Minister for Water and Power Khwaja Asif, the interior secretary, DG Joint Staff Lt Gen Majid Khan and representatives from half a dozen other departments and ministries.

Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani will represent Pakis­tan at talks on counter-terrorism and non-proliferation.

The discussions on non-proliferation precede a nuclear summit Washington is hosting next month. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi are both attending the summit.

Secretary Kerry will lead the American team at the strategic dialogue, which will include officials from the National Security Council, the De­­fence Department and the US intelligence community.

Published in Dawn, February 29th, 2016