During his televised address to the US where he outlined his strategy pertaining to Afghanistan, US President Donald Trump pulled no punches as far as Pakistan was concerned. Trump said:
We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond. It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilisation, order, and to peace.
China predictably rushed to Pakistan’s defense after Trump’s no-holds-barred attack on Pakistan.
While New Delhi would be curious with regard to President Trump’s expectations since he urged India to do more in Afghanistan, the stern message to Pakistan from the US President is welcome news.
Strain in US-Pakistan Ties?
In the past few days, two other developments would have been closely watched by New Delhi.
Firstly, a foreign policy report stated that during his meeting with close advisors at Camp David for discussing his administration’s policy towards Afghanistan, the US President was in favour of cutting military aid to Pakistan altogether, given the country’s backing to terror groups like the Taliban and the Haqqani network which operate in Pakistan, close to the Afghanistan border.
Apart from this, United States Central Command (CENTCOM) commander General Joseph Votel who led a delegation to Pakistan, made it clear to the military as well as to the political leadership, that action should be taken against terror groups targeting neighbouring countries (a reference to India and Afghanistan). Votel had met with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Zubair Hayat and Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa to convey his message.
In July 2017, US had refused to release $350 million to Pakistan, stating that it was not doing enough to fight against the Haqqani network. Earlier this month, President Trump’s national security advisor, General HR Mcmaster too had stated that Trump expects Pakistan to take on terror groups.
The Pakistan army, which for a long time has been able to persuade the US with regard to its ‘frontline’ role in fighting terror – and has been successful in milking its geopolitical relevance – would be taken aback by Trump’s firm warning as well as clear intent to cut military aid to Pakistan.
More than financial or material assistance, we seek acknowledgement of our decades-long contributions towards regional peace and stability, understanding of our challenges and most importantly the sacrifices the Pakistani nation and its security forces have rendered in [the] fight against terrorism and militancy.
-Nafees Zakaria, Foreign Office Spokesperson, Pakistan
US’ Intentions Pretty Clear
India should welcome not just the decision to reduce military aid but also the clear message to Pakistan by Trump in his address.
It would be pertinent to point out that the US has adopted a firm stand against dreaded terror groups. On 16 August 2017, it designated the Hizbul Mujahideen as a foreign terrorist group. In June 2017, the US had declared its Pakistan-based chief Syed Salahuddin a global terrorist.
Some of the earlier steps taken by Washington clearly illustrated US’ intentions of backing New Delhi, such as supporting India’s proposal to declare Masood Azhar as a designated terrorist at the UN. It’s a different matter that the proposal backed by UK and France has been repeatedly obstructed by China.
Trump’s Stern Stand Against Terrorism Is Welcome
To conclude, many would be skeptical of the Trump administration’s tough stance on Pakistan, given the fact that he has urged India to do more in Afghanistan.
The firmness being showed by the Pakistan army is welcome, and given China’s assertiveness in addition to its burgeoning presence, Trump’s commitment to a greater role in Afghanistan, and in countering terrorism is good news for India.
President Trump is beginning to realise that the ‘America first policy’ does not mean that Washington cedes space to China, or turns a blind eye to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism – which Beijing has been doing. Quite the opposite; it needs to play a more pro-active role in joining hands with India not just to combat terrorism, but also to find imaginative ways to blunt Beijing’s hegemonic designs.