Trump’s Request for India’s Help in Afghanistan Rattles Pakistan – New York Times
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — President Trump’s appeal for India’s help on Afghanistan set off alarm bells on Tuesday in Pakistan, where officials warned that the approach risked jolting a tumultuous relationship. They also expressed relief that Mr. Trump did not call for abrupt reductions in military aid to Pakistan, which the United States has long accused of going easy on militants.
As part of Mr. Trump’s new plan for addressing the 16-year United States conflict in Afghanistan, he asked India — which Pakistan has historically seen as its enemy — to “help us more,” especially with economic assistance.
Mr. Trump also reiterated his predecessors’ calls that Islamabad crack down on militant groups that have waged attacks from bases in Pakistani territory.
“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” Mr. Trump said on Monday, although he stopped short of cutting off military aid, as some Pakistani elites had feared.
Pakistan and United States have long had a troubled relationship, increasingly strained by differences over Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan. Even before American military and intelligence operatives tracked down and killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, American officials chided the Pakistan’s military and intelligence agency as harboring or turning a blind eye to militants.
Pakistani officials, in turn, have cited Indian influence as a primary cause of instability and insecurity in Afghanistan.
Even before Mr. Trump unveiled his strategy on Monday, Islamabad was apprehensive and concerned.
The Pakistani military has been at the forefront of formulating the country’s foreign policy and has taken the lead in defining the contours of Islamabad’s relationship with Afghanistan and India. The civilian government has very little say, if any, in these policy initiatives.
Pakistani officials said they expected private contractors to take a more dominant role than troops already in Afghanistan.
Sehar Kamran, an opposition lawmaker senator who leads an Islamabad- based think tank, sad that Mr. Trump’s plan appeared to be “more of the same, under much more colorful language and contradictory bluster.”
“The shift from a timeline-oriented approach to a condition-based one, I think, is only the vocalization of a longstanding practice,” she said, adding. “What is concerning for Pakistan, however, is the contradiction within his statement that expresses both an acknowledgment of the country’s sacrifices while simultaneously downplaying them by continuing accusations of ‘sheltering terrorists,’ and doing not enough with billions and billions paid by America.”
Ms. Kamran said that pushing India to play a stronger role inside Afghanistan would isolate Washington’s friends in Islamabad “without realizing, understanding or perhaps deliberately underestimating the impact of increasing Indian presence on Pakistan’s western border.”
“An unnecessary flexing of military muscles and the deployment of additional troops at this time will only undo much that has been achieved over many years diplomatically, and serve to further antagonize regional countries like Pakistan, China, and Russia,” she said.
Analysts said Pakistan’s dependence on American aid had declined in recent years — partly as China flexes its military might in South Asia — giving policy makers in Islamabad more room to maneuver.
“Pakistan is prepared to absorb the impact of a more assertive U.S. policy toward the country,” said Arif Rafiq, a nonresident fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “It’s the most economically stable that it’s been in a decade, thanks in part to massive Chinese investment, and it has managed to secure much of its border regions despite the withdrawal of most U.S. combat forces.”
Mr. Rafiq said that Pakistan also knows that it has several options to counter punitive actions by Washington, including closing supply routes to Afghanistan.
“I think what Pakistan hopes for is the U.S. to engage it as a partner in Afghanistan, rather than as a contractor deputed to arrest or kill insurgent leaders named by Washington,” Mr. Rafiq said. “That requires coordination on border security and a structured dialogue process with the Taliban. I think Islamabad will remain rather firm in steering its engagement with both Kabul and Washington in that direction.”
Other analysts offered an even more scathing view of Mr. Trump’s speech.
“By inviting India to be more active in Afghanistan, Trump has confirmed the worst fears of Pakistan’s generals: that America is in cahoots with India against Pakistan,” said Mosharraf Zaidi, a foreign-policy analyst in Islamabad.
“There may never be a perfect approach to convince Pakistan to abandon the Haqqani network, but this speech was a terrible attempt,” Mr. Zaidi said, referring to the Pakistan-based militant group that has been blamed for most of the deadly attacks inside Afghanistan.
However, Maria Sultan, a defense analyst based in Islamabad, said the Trump policy was “not as bad as we were expecting. The responsibility has been essentially shifted to Afghanistan.”
She warned that intelligence based operations against groups inside Pakistan might increase. “This will further reduce the space for cooperation between Pakistan and U.S. and will be counterproductive for a long-term relationship,” she said.
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