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.
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.
and the 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 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.
Officials in Islamabad accuse India of supporting a hostile political regime in Kabul and funding militants, who use Afghanistan
as a base to launch attacks inside Pakistan.
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.
Senior Pakistani security officials stress that an all-inclusive engagement is the only option for peace inside Afghanistan.
More troops inside the country, along with blaming Pakistan
for harboring terrorists, will not work, they said in background interviews.
However, there was no formal, official response to Mr. Trump’s speech by Tuesday evening. Pakistan’s foreign minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, is to leave for the United States in the next few days to hold talks with American officials, a spokesman said.
The military also decided not to put forth a formal public response. In what could be viewed as a pre-emptive move, Major Gen Asif Ghafoor, the military spokesman, had said in a press briefing earlier on Monday that no terror group was operating inside Pakistan.
Sehar Kamran, an opposition senator who leads an Islamabad-based think tank, said 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.
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 and director general of the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute, 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,” Ms. Sultan said.
©2017 The New York Times News Service