The Trump discontinuity: 

The Trump discontinuity


  • New Delhi wonder if Washington has the political will to carry through the promised pressure on Pakistan to stop hosting terror sanctuaries on its soil.

What’s there for India in the bag?

  • For Delhi, it is about seizing the opportunity opened up by Trump’s new policy to raise India’s profile in Afghanistan.
  • New Delhi welcomed “President Trump’s determination to enhance efforts to overcome the challenges facing Afghanistan and confronting issues of safe havens and other forms of cross-border support enjoyed by terrorists.
  • In his speech Trump had demanded that Pakistan’s support to cross-border terror “will have to change” and “change immediately”.
  • On Trump’s affirmation that India ought to do more, Delhi pointed to India’s significant past efforts to promote economic reconstruction in Afghanistan.
  • It added that India “will continue these efforts, including in partnership with other countries”

Why should India be cautious?

  • India’s positive response does not mean that Delhi is unaware of the enduring impulses in Washington to forgive Rawalpindi’s transgressions in Afghanistan.
  • Whatever the US president might say, there are large sections of the US deep state that caution against a radical shift in US policy towards Pakistan.
  • If the US has tolerated this for the last 17 years, Delhi has good reason to be cautious in its assessment of what the Trump Administration can compel the Pakistan Army to do today.
  • In any case, what we heard is a mere speech. Turning the words of that speech into actions of the ground will not be easy.
  • While skepticism is healthy, cynicism that ignores the changes taking place in the US regional policy is not.
  • After all, Trump has said something about Pakistan in public that his predecessors were not willing to. If the previous administration acquiesced in Pakistan’s double dealing on terror, Trump has threatened Rawalpindi with consequences if it does not change its behaviour.

India’s role in Afghanistan

  • It is equally important for Delhi to note the shift in Washington’s thinking on the Indian role in Afghanistan.
  • When it came to Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Bush Administration drew a red line for India. It cautioned Delhi against too large a role in Afghanistan.
  • The Obama Administration began with the proposition that the answer to Afghanistan might lie in promoting a resolution of Pakistan’s Kashmir dispute with India. It required intensive diplomacy from India to fend off these initiatives.
  • India needs to appreciate the most important change in US Afghan policy.
  • Despite all the talk of playing the China card against the US, Pakistan is acutely conscious of the dangers of being treated as a rogue state by the West.
  • It’s thundering silence in response to the Trump speech, suggests that Rawalpindi has chosen to avoid, for now, a public argument with Washington.
  • Rawalpindi will offer some cooperation in countering terror and make new promises to bring the Taliban to the table. It will urge US pressure on India to start talks on Kashmir.

What should India focus on?

  • Delhi’s current emphasis must be on taking advantage of the Trump discontinuity in the American policy towards the Subcontinent. A positive Indian approach would involve three elements — economic, security and diplomatic.
  • India must upgrade up its economic diplomacy in Afghanistan to bring immediate benefits to Kabul amidst the deteriorating conditions in the country.
  • Delhi must step up security cooperation with Afghanistan, especially in the training of its police and armed forces and intelligence sharing.
  • On the diplomatic front, India must counter the emerging argument that Trump’s new approach will intensify the “Indo-Pak rivalry” in Afghanistan and the old one that Kashmir holds the key to peace in Afghanistan.
  • Delhi must remind the world of India’s commitment to regional cooperation with Afghanistan and Pakistan, in an atmosphere free of terrorism.
  • Trump’s new Afghan strategy could be a potential game-changer for South Asia or a brief exception to the familiar pattern of US-Pak relations.
  • While recognizing the potential shadow between Trump’s words and deeds, Delhi must bet on its own engagement that can impact future outcomes in Afghanistan.
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