Some specific actions on Pakistan ,which is in the cross hairs of U.S. President Donald Trump for sheltering terrorists, could be expected in the next one or two days, the White House said on Tuesday.
Experts say Trump’s tweet does not indicate any shift in policy; however, the bellicose rhetoric employed by him could be counterproductive
Mr. Trump had criticised Pakistan in a harshly worded Twitter post on January 1, which several commentators in the U.S. fear could be counterproductive to America’s military operations in Afghanistan.
- The administration has already withheld military aid of $255 million in August, which is technically still available to Pakistan, conditionally
- That could be withdrawn entirely
- A decision on $400 million in Coalition Support Fund — reimbursement of expenses to Pakistan related to Afghan war — for the year 2017 is also pending
- This money could be given only if the administration certifies that Pakistan has taken adequate action against the Haqqani Network.
Continuation of Obama policy
Mr. Trump’s tweet does not indicate a shift in policy, as the previous Obama administration had come to same conclusion about Pakistan, while the undiplomatic rhetoric could backfire
No substantial change
In actual terms, the policy does not appear to have substantially changed
Obama administration followed through on cuts
- In its final years, the (Barack) Obama administration followed through on cuts in military and economic aid when they were unsatisfied with the degree of cooperation coming from Islamabad, particularly in targeting militant organisations
- This was meant to send a signal of divergent interests
The difference now
The difference is that the current administration has amplified the signal with a sweeping incendiary statements and antagonistic rhetoric that is likely counterproductive
Nothing new though but more determination this time
- The reality is that despite all the attention to this Trump tweet, he was largely saying things he’s already said before. So the tweet itself doesn’t represent much that’s new. That said, the tweet was clearly telegraphing the White House’s intention to suspend aid, and this is an administration that appears much more determined than its predecessor to follow through on threats to cut aid
- Pakistan is actively choosing not to act further on the Haqqanis, the LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba], and others, and it cannot expect Americans to see this as the behaviour of an ally.
Impact on Afghan situation
How will Mr. Trump’s approach affect the situation in Afghanistan?
If it doesn’t elicit enhanced cooperation and scuttles existing mechanisms of cooperation, it will undoubtedly hurt efforts in Afghanistan
But no major effect on Afghanistan’s stability
But even if Pakistan did everything the U.S. asked, it’s highly uncertain this would yield stability in Afghanistan. Kabul is plagued by many more challenges of internal fissures, corruption, illegitimacy, and incompetence
Furthermore, the Taliban may not need Pakistan to generate combat power, so even if Pakistan managed to put the squeeze on some Taliban elements, they may foreclose on what little leverage they have left while being blamed for the Taliban continuing to threaten the Afghan state
Pressure tactics of the US might backfire
U.S. pressure tactics could backfire in a big way, cause Pakistan to tighten, not ease, its embrace of Afghanistan-focused militants, and lead to even more violence in Afghanistan
Strong reactions from Pakistan
Pakistan has reacted strongly to Mr. Trump’s statement, and how it would respond further also remains an open question.
Measures Pakistan could take to hurt US on Afghan border
Pakistan has plenty of tools to respond to further U.S. coercive measures including closing the G-LOCS and A-LOCS [ground and air lines of communications], ratcheting up the temperature on the Afghan border, and reducing intelligence cooperation. If the U.S. escalates in kinetic terms with drone strikes outside the established zones, Pakistan can escalate in kind and attempt to shoot down some drones.
Decline in trust would be the worst
The worst consequence is a decline in trust that makes recovery from a downturn much more difficult
In effect, if the U.S. pressure tactics work, and Pakistan backs off on its links to militants, then Afghanistan is a big winner.
But if the pressure tactics fail, stability in Afghanistan could worsen, and the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan will grow even more complicated than it already is