Donald Trump dubs Pulwama attack 'horrible situation', but US has to do far more to end Pakistan's terror industry

"I have watched... It was a horrible thing... It would be wonderful if they (India and Pakistan) get along"

Seasoned with optimism of a better future, and peppered with deep disdain for our belligerent neighbour, this was pretty much the essence of Donald Trump's reaction to the Pulwama terrorist attack. We, in turn, celebrated the statement, 'naming and shaming Pakistan' amid loud cheers. However, as India recovers from what was arguably the worst terror attack in the Kashmir Valley, it becomes more evident that it will need as many allies as it can gather on its side to pressure Pakistan into pulling the plug on terrorism.

If strong condemnation were to suffice, close to 50 nations, including some strategic partners of Pakistan, have come out in support of India and criticised the powers behind the attack. However, there is a reason India depends on the US to do more than just condemn the attack.

Donald Trump dubs Pulwama attack horrible situation, but US has to do far more to end Pakistans terror industry

File photo of US president Donald Trump. AP

Why does India rely more on the US to put pressure on Pakistan?

After the erstwhile Soviet Union, pulled out completely from Afghanistan, China and United States have been the only two world powers openly competing for influence in the Indian subcontinent region. With China squarely behind Pakistan, India looks to the US for whatever tacit support and proverbial backing it can offer. On its part, US has strategic interests in exiting Afghanistan, and Pakistan's unwillingness or incapability to deal with terrorists operating from its soil irks Washington as much as it drains New Delhi.

Besides, with the US now looking to pull out of over sixteen-year-long battle in Afghanistan, while trying to plug the leaks in its resources, it needs Islamabad to step up and stop Haqqani Network and Taliban from gaining a safe haven on its soil. It sorely needs to push Taliban into a spot where it agrees to dialogue, but not from a position of strength. That can only happen if Taliban finds its route to gather funds, and a potential safe haven (read Pakistan) from US drone strikes blocked. Therefore it is both in India and US' strategic interests that Pakistan gets its house in order and the civilian leadership gathers enough strength to control militant and extremists groups, those directed at India and at Afghanistan.

Another angle to this symbiotic India-US relationship is the latter's ambition to compete with Chinese influence in the subcontinent. After decades of friendship with Pakistan, US started inching closer to India only after in its efforts to counterbalance China’s growing influence in Asia. A recent report by a US think-tank dubs India a "key piece in the jigsaw" for the US, given the advancements that China has made both economically and militarily. The Atlantic Council, a US think-tank said in a policy paper that the US will need to channel considerable resources to assert its global and regional primacy lest it solidifies its ties with New Delhi and help it compete with China.

Meanwhile, India in turn seeks US' backing in dealing with China stonewalling its efforts to put any kind of diplomatic or financial pressure on Pakistan to mend its ways.

What has the US done so far against Pakistan?

US first recognised terrorism as a global threat when it brutally disrupted the local political narrative following the 11 September, 2001 attacks. However, according to an article published on Brookings Institute's website, even then the focus was on Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. Kashmir was at best viewed as an 'Indian problem' However, this changed in the aftermath of the suicide attack on Indian Parliament in 2002 when it threatened Pakistan with war unless it stopped cross-border terrorism.

The first even action against US ally Pakistan was initiated by the then George W Bush administration to to avert a fourth war between the two nuclear-powered nations. Washington banned the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the two groups which were nursed by Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI and the Pakistan Army. It also put enormous pressure on the regime of President Pervez Musharraf to crack down on terrorist groups operating from Pakistan.

Come 2018, and the US cut over $700 million in military aid that was meant to reimburse Pakistan's efforts against militancy. “Due to a lack of Pakistani decisive actions in support of the South Asia Strategy, the remaining $300 (million) was reprogrammed," the US said.

Another setback for Pakistan came in a more strategic sense, when Trump revealed his first National Security Strategy Doctrine. The foreign policy document separated partners from adversaries and it put Pakistan in the latter category.

However, it can be argued that while the fund cuts were part of a existing trend where US aid was already drying up, harsher terminology against Islamabad in a foreign policy document and repeated public statements is unlikely to have any major impact. In 2016,  Obama administration refused to release a portion of Pakistani military aid, having provided nearly $33 billion since 2002.

Unfortunately, neither of these strategies are likely to have any effect on Pakistan. Its military establishment and intelligence agencies consider militant sponsorship an important mechanism for maintaining Pakistan’s sovereignty and national identity. It is the only way Islamabad perceives it can combat the 'India threat'. In such a scenario, India would expect US to adopt more potent tools available at its disposal, including withdrawing MFN status, declaring Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, sanctioning specific entities in Inter-Services Intelligence, curtailing coalition support funds and enlarging drone strikes to target terror hotbeds that aren't located in heavily-populated areas.

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Updated Date: Feb 20, 2019 18:02:20 IST

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