Blowback as Trump goes ballistic

G Parthasarathy | Updated on January 10, 2018 Published on September 06, 2017

Talk tough India can afford to do that now   -  V_Sudershan

Make no mistake: the Pakistani army will call the shots on cross-border terrorism in J&K and elsewhere in India

After waiting anxiously for six months to learn how the Trump administration would deal with Afghanistan, Pakistan was rudely shaken when President Donald Trump virtually read out the riot act to the generals in Rawalpindi and the politicians in Islamabad.

Never given to sophistry, Trump made it clear that the Af-Pak region is the epicentre of global terrorism, stating: “Pakistan gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror.” He added: “We have been paying Pakistan millions of dollars at the same time that they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting.” He pledged his support to strengthen the Afghan government while praising India’s role in Afghanistan and across the Indo-Pacific region. He made it clear that he would do what it takes to act against “Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations” such as the Taliban. The secretaries of state and defence, and the US commander in Afghanistan have echoed the president’s comments.

Shocked by Trump’s forthright condemnation, Pakistan responded by calling a meeting of its military-dominated National Security Council (NSC) chaired by stand-in prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. The NSC conveniently avoided responding directly to Trump’s remarks. It called instead for “eliminating safe havens inside Afghanistan” with attention focused on “border management, return of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and reinvigorating the peace process, for a political settlement in Afghanistan”.

Rather than respond to the widespread view across the world that Pakistan should end support to terrorism as demanded by Trump, Pakistan is now a nation in denial, changing the narrative from ending terrorism to its “sacrifices” in the “war on terror”. The Pakistani emphasis is not on terrorism, but on getting a dialogue shaped between the Taliban and the Afghan government, in which the Taliban will talk from a position of military strength. In Pakistani perceptions, Afghanistan should be its “client state” ruled by the universally reviled terrorists it backs.

Chinese support

Not surprisingly, Pakistan has received backing for its stand from its ‘all-weather friend’ China. Beijing has asked the US to show “understanding” of Pakistan’s views and concerns. Not to be left behind, President Putin’s loquacious special envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, has spoken like the special envoy of the Taliban.

America’s Nato allies have pledged to support and supplement the US decision to expand its military presence in Afghanistan. While the US would support a dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban, Trump has made it clear that while his aims include “preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan”, he would only accept “elements of the Taliban” in any political settlement in Afghanistan. The US and its allies will, therefore, not accept a government dominated by the ISI-backed Taliban.

It is crucial for India to see that it is involved in and influences the emerging political process within Afghanistan. Rejecting American proposals for early dialogue, Pakistan has indicated that it will enter into such a dialogue only after serious consultations with China, Russia and Turkey. It has also indirectly held out the threat that it could close American supply routes to Afghanistan if it finds US actions unpalatable. It remains to be seen how the US reacts to this.

The American public and political opinion, especially in the US Congress, are becoming increasingly impatient of and angry at what they see as Pakistan’s duplicitous role.

The Trump administration is said to have consulted Washington’s former ambassador to Kabul, Zalmay Khalilzad, who hails from Afghanistan, on shaping its Af-Pak policies. Khalilzad has held that Pakistan would “test” Trump’s resolve to implement what he had stated.

He has urged that the increase in the American military presence should be accompanied by a “strong diplomatic push” to coordinate the actions Trump has proposed. He envisages Pakistan-backed attacks by the Taliban and the Haqqani Network on American supply lines and advocates precision drone strikes on the Taliban within Pakistan, such as the attack that killed the former Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour in Baluchistan. He also recommends American air strikes on terrorist hideouts in Pakistan and initiating action to put Pakistan on the list of states sponsoring terrorism.

Most importantly he urges: “Washington should also suspend all American aid to Pakistan and use its influence with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to do the same.” Moreover, he believes that ISI and other Pakistani officials with links to terrorist groups should face travel bans and other American sanctions.

Sanctions and strikes

India would do well to encourage congressional and political opinion in the US to work in the direction Khalilzad has proposed. The Pakistani bluff about closing American supply routes to Afghanistan has to be met by the US and its allies resolutely and frontally.

These financial sanctions will be particularly effective at a time when the balance of payments position in Pakistan is far from comfortable and the much-touted Chinese assistance for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor is largely made up of tied loans, with a negligible grant element. This credit squeeze on Pakistan could also be extended to loans from the Asian Development Bank.

The Trump administration wields substantial clout with the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Leading members of the GCC such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE could be very effective in “persuading” Pakistan see reason.

India can best contribute to the squeeze on Pakistan by proceeding on its present course of replacing Saarc with Bimstec as the primary organisation for regional cooperation in South Asia while stepping up trilateral cooperation with Iran and Afghanistan on issues of trade, transit and aid to Afghanistan, despite Tehran’s recent ‘contacts’ with the Taliban.

The obvious collusion between the supreme court and the military in Pakistan to oust Nawaz Sharif makes it clear that the Pakistan army is going to call the shots on cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in India. There should be no illusions on this score while determining policies on our relations with Pakistan. It is important that we finalise an imaginative five-year plan for economic assistance to Afghanistan and coordinate policies with Kabul to deal with Pakistan-sponsored terrorism more effectively.

We should also ask ourselves whether any Indian interest is served by denying more military equipment from our stocks of Soviet-era equipment to Afghanistan, especially when two of the four attack helicopters supplied by us to Afghanistan are not operational for want of spare parts.

The writer is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan

Published on September 06, 2017
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