InternationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 10

The US-India salvo

A joint warning by the US and India to Pakistan over its alleged inaction on terrorism is in contrast to the Trump administration’s extensive engagements for rebuilding ties with Pakistan. It reflects the reality that the US wants to maintain close relations with Pakistan’s archrival India while keeping Pakistan on its side to serve its regional interests.

After the conclusion of the second India-US 2+2 dialogue, the two sides asked Pakistan to prosecute the perpetrators of cross-border terror attacks, especially Mumbai and Pathankot strikes. The two countries asked Pakistan to take concerted action against all terrorist networks, including al-Qaeda, ISIS, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Haqqani Network, Hizb-ul Mujahideen, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and D-Company of Dawood Ibrahim. The joint statement was issued at the end of the second India-US 2+2 dialogue between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh at the State Department.

On the other hand, Pakistan took strong exception to the unwarranted references to it in the joint statement and rejected the assertions. “The anti-Pakistan assertions made by the Indian ministers of defence and external affairs are equally reprehensible and we also take exception to the selective and one-sided nature of the joint statement,” the Foreign Office spokesperson said in a statement. Pakistan’s reaction is justified because the terrorist networks, which the US and India have mentioned, do not exist on its soil. Pakistan has successfully dismantled hideouts of terrorists from its areas bordering Afghanistan and their sleeper cells in urban areas. Most of the terrorist outfits were created abroad and a few, which grew in some areas of the country, have already been eliminated.

In another move by the US and India to put pressure on Pakistan, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has asked Pakistan to ensure that individuals affiliated with proscribed organisations are convicted and also sought details of legal measures it has taken to regulate madrassas. Pakistan has received a questionnaire from the global money-laundering and terror-financing watchdog containing 150 queries. The FATF has also sought copies of FIRs registered against members of banned outfits. It has sent in the questionnaire in response to a report Pakistan had submitted to the global body on December 3. Pakistan’s response will determine whether the watchdog continues to keep the country on its grey list or not.

The latest US salvo comes at a time when the Trump administration has decided to resume military training and educational programme for Pakistan after it was suspended more than a year ago. The State Department announced the administration has approved the resumption of Pakistan’s participation in the programme. The International Military Education and Training Programme was blocked last year in August citing cuts in funds. It was a small facet of US security aid programmes for Pakistan worth some $2 billion that remain suspended on orders that Trump abruptly issued in January 2018 to compel Pakistan to crack down on Islamist militants.

The US has also openly opposed the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in a bid to malign the project and advance its interests in the region. A US media report expressed concerns about “Pakistan losing sovereignty to its deep-pocketed Asian ally,” which can use Gwadar as a strategic card against India and the United States if tensions worsen to the point of naval blockades as the two powers increasingly confront each other at sea. The US is also “worried” about Pakistan’s Chinese debt problem and Chinese state-owned companies constructing seaports at strategic spots around the Indian Ocean, including places in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Malaysia, which it considers a threat to its interests and India, its regional ally.

Then, US President Donald Trump wrote a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan, seeking Pakistan’s help to end the decades-old conflict in Afghanistan. The letter requested Pakistan’s “full support for the US effort to advance the Afghan peace process,” but at the same time, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis warned that it was time for everyone to support the efforts of the UN, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and all those who were trying to maintain peace in South Asia. The request by US President Donald Trump and the warning by Defence Secretary Jim Mattis created an impression Pakistan was being forced to play a role in Afghan peace, as designed by the US and India, even if it was not willing. It also made clear that the US wants to resolve the issue by giving India a greater role in the war-torn country in the future. Trump’s sudden request following a month of harsh language about Pakistan was shocking. He complained to the Fox News that Islamabad doesn’t do “a damn thing” for the US and charged that its government had helped Osama bin Laden hide. Later, he took to Twitter in an extended diatribe, assailing Pakistan for doing “nothing for us.” He also accused Pakistan of withholding information about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. “We paid Pakistan Billions of Dollars & they never told us he was living there. Fools!” he wrote in a tweet. “We no longer pay Pakistan the $Billions because they would take our money and do nothing for us, Bin Laden being a prime example, Afghanistan being another. They were just one of many countries that take from the United States without giving anything in return. That’s ENDING!,” he added. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan fired back, tweeting the “record needs to be put straight on Mr Trump’s tirade against Pakistan. Our tribal areas were devastated & millions of people uprooted from their homes. The war drastically impacted lives of ordinary Pakistanis. Instead of making Pakistan a scapegoat for their failures, the US should do a serious assessment of why, despite 140000 NATO troops plus 250,000 Afghan troops & reportedly $1 trillion spent on war in Afghanistan, the Taliban today are stronger than before.”

The US has blamed Pakistan again for providing the Afghan Taliban sanctuaries on its territory, rather than accepting its failure to control the militants and check their cross-border movement. If analyzed carefully, recent US actions reflect the feeling of an enemy and a former friend of Pakistan. The US and India are concerned about rising cooperation between Pakistan and China. Pakistan has also become a battleground between the US and China in a trade war between the two superpowers. The US curtailed Pakistan’s security-related aid after opposing an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout for it. It indicates the US frustration after Pakistan came out of its influence and entered into strategic partnership with China. Pakistan has accepted the new partnership between the US and India and they should also acknowledge its geo-strategic relationship with China.