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Why India should't get too excited about Trump's new Afghanistan policy

Catch Team | Updated on: 2 September 2017, 14:15 IST

US President Donald Trump may be right about Pakistan needing to take the right steps to take on extremists in the region, but India should't get too excited about the harsh words. Instead, India must continue it aggressive diplomatic manoeuvring, especially with the Afghans.

Taking a hard line

On 21 August, President Trump was not reserved in his comments when he stated that Pakistan “often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror.”

The New York Times recently reported that the Trump administration has notified Congress on how $255 million in military assistance is being put into an escrow account. This basically implies that the money would only be released only and when Pakistan meets the conditions that it acts more on terror groups active in Afghanistan.

But when the US and India, who are strategic partners, have seen expanded cooperation and a deepening of ties, shouldn’t India expect more pressure on Pakistan to act against groups which have been launching attacks on India - such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), among others?

Growing Indian influence in Afghanistan

Analysts say there is a need to look at the bright side of the new Afghan policy of the Trump administration where he asked India to do more of development work. It was a recognition of India’s development work in the country, which include, among other things, the Salma Dam in Herat and the new Parliament building in Kabul.

Pakistan does not want Indian influence to increase in Afghanistan. But more development work would do exactly that. India has been reluctant to get drawn into the military side of the conflict and has thus far focused on capacity building.

One analyst points out that the nod for more Indian investment and outreach in Afghanistan is one reason why the Pakistani Army is unnerved by the new policy. Pakistani NSA Nasser Janjua hinted as much when he said the new policy would create regional imbalance, a clear reference to India.

The hunt is on

Meanwhile, it seems US frustration is more focussed on Haqqani Network and the Taliban, who have a history of close coordination have been launching attacks on US assets in Afghanistan. Trump wants to talk to Taliban, but only once they abandon violence - something which looks unlikely if Pakistan were to continue its support.

The former has had a history of even targeting Indian establishments. The Trump Administration wants Pakistan to crackdown. He said as much when he announced the new Afghan policy.

“Today, 20 US designated foreign terrorist organisations are active in Pakistan and Afghanistan — the highest concentration in the world. For its part Pakistan often gives safe havens to agents of chaos, violence and terror,” Trump said.

“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” Trump said in his address. “But that will have to change, and that will change immediately,” he said.

This is not the first time that Americans are frustrated over Pakistani support to groups like the Taliban. Annual assistance has dwindled since 2011 when it reportedly touched $35 billion. In 2016, it fell below $1 billion.

Regional reactions

Pakistan put up a stern face after Trump’s announcement of the new policy.

"We are not looking for any material or financial assistance from USA, but trust, understanding and acknowledgement of our contributions," Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa reportedly told US Ambassador David Hale in Islamabad.

An analyst points out that India should not expect much from the US on Pakistan’s support to groups targeting India. The Americans, despite that harsh statement, he says, seem to using a conciliatory approach towards Pakistan, which India should be watchful of.

Ambassador Hale also appears to have gone into a damage control mode after Trump’s address as can be seen with his meetings with both Bajwa and Janjua. In his meeting with Janjua, according to a press release issued by the latter’s office, the envoy is said to have told Pakistan on how Trump did not blame Pakistan on failure of war on terror in Afghanistan and how the US was aware of Pakistan’s reservation on India’s role in Afghanistan.

First published: 2 September 2017, 14:15 IST