Trump may finally do India good by making Pakistan pay for sponsoring terrorism
Islamabad is being rightly blamed in Washington for the avoidable military stalemate in Afghanistan.
- Total Shares
Although the Trump administration will soon announce its much-awaited comprehensive review of American policies towards Afghanistan and Pakistan, the emerging signals emanating from Washington indicate that “sticks” are going to be preferred over "carrots" this time.
This will be a very positive development for India, which has been struggling to cope with Pakistan-backed terrorism for more than three decades.
In recent years, the US generals have repeatedly and publicly stated that elimination of terrorist safe havens in Pakistan is prerequisite for the pacification of Afghanistan and an early American exit from there. The presence of some leading Afghan Taliban commanders in Quetta, and hundreds of jihadist fighters in the hideouts in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas is critical to the military outcome in Afghanistan.
The US President Donald Trump seems receptive to their counsel.
It is becoming clear that the major objectives of the Trump administration in Afghanistan will be to ensure the longevity of the fragile government in Kabul through increase in the troops level, to neutralize the undesirable influences of Pakistan’s security establishment and to increase India’s role in Afghanistan’s peace and development.
While Washington and Kabul continue to show their willingness for a negotiated political settlement with the Afghan Taliban, they have also declared the only red line for peace talks: acceptance of the Afghan constitution, which remains unacceptable to the inflexible Afghan Taliban. The US also seems to have realized that the persistence of Afghan conflict is creating conditions for China’s growing influence in the region.
Pakistan is being rightly blamed in Washington for the avoidable military stalemate in Afghanistan. Most importantly, the demands on Pakistan are no longer confined to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network. If indications given by the US in the Donald Trump-Narendra Modi joint statement and the US State Department’s Country Report on Terrorism 2016 are correct, the US is going to insist on action from Pakistan against Kashmir-centric terror groups to fulfil the long-held Indian grievances.
There are possibilities that the Trump administration will not fall into the worn-out Pakistani trap of reaching tactical “accommodations” with America on Afghanistan in exchange for Washington’s silence on Pakistan’s active support to terrorist groups in Indian Kashmir. As India-obsessed Pakistan’s security establishment will have to think thousand times before cracking down on its “strategic assets” targeted against India, Pakistani leadership will try to wriggle out of this precarious situation. India must maintain the pressure on the US.
When the US President-elect Donald Trump had made an early telephonic call to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in which Trump was reported by Pakistani media to have showered extravagant praise on Sharif and the Pakistani people, it seemed that under his administration, the US would also adopt a strategy heavy on “carrots”.
But subsequent developments are moving in the direction of “sticks”. First major indication came during Trump’s speech in Riyadh in which he not only mentioned India, not Pakistan, as the “victim” of terrorism, but also refrained from a bilateral meeting with Sharif, even as meeting with the Afghan President.
The “sticks” being used by the Trump administration also include cutting-off of Coalition Support Funds. The US defence secretary has already blocked $50 million from the 2016 reimbursement. There may be more “sticks” in the offing. Pakistan army has always boasted of its major “non-NATA ally” status, which is likely to be stripped off if Pakistan does not show sufficient progress on American demands. Pakistan may also witness intensified drone strikes on the terror safe haven inside Pakistan territory.
This would not be a new policy, however. During the Obama administration, the US troops in Afghanistan regularly carried out drone strikes, often with unofficial connivance of Pakistan army. The US may impose visa and financial restrictions on certain designated Pakistani officials as well as targeted sanctions against some entities.
If Pakistan is designated as a “state sponsor of terrorism”, it will certainly be the biggest positive contribution of the Trump administration in the ongoing “war against terror”, whose implications will be felt throughout the region.
As Sharif battles for his own political survival, there is mounting evidence of an all-too-visible disconnect between Washington and Islamabad. All hope is not lost for Pakistan yet. It has the historic opportunity to correct its strategic mistakes and tactical miscalculations.
Even at this late stage, Pakistan can engage the Trump administration to avoid a damaging confrontation, and show its willingness to act against terror outfits without any preposterous distinction of “good” and “bad” terrorists.