US raps Pakistan on terror: Here's why Trump administration's words carry little meaning for India

In its first assessment of the security situation in south Asia, the Trump administration has bluntly held Pakistan responsible for destabilising the region.

File image of US President Donald Trump. Reuters

File image of US President Donald Trump. Reuters

Speaking to US lawmakers during a Congressional hearing on global threat evaluation, new US intelligence chief Daniel R Coats has blamed Pakistan for sponsoring terror and forcing a deterioration of its bilateral relationship with India.

Shortly after the testimony, the US slapped a bunch of stricter sanctions on Pakistan-based individuals and an organisation serving as facilitators and conduits of terror.

Coats's stance is a virtual validation of India's position that mother ship Pakistan runs the 'Ivy League of terrorism'. It is tempting to deduce that under Donald Trump, US has taken off the rose-tinted lens through which the previous Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations viewed Pakistan.

Does this indicate a strategic shift in America's Pakistan policy? Is it that the US is fed up of being fooled into bankrolling Pakistan's numerous terror factories that have turned south Asia into one of the world's most volatile zones? Before we explore these questions, let us take a look at Coats's comments that received wide coverage in Indian media.

The new US intelligence chief reckons that India's patience is running thin owing to "Islamabad's failure to curb support to anti-India militants" and the situation may "deteriorate further in 2017, especially in the event of another high-profile terrorist attack in India that New Delhi attributes to originating in or receiving assistance from Pakistan," according to a report in Times of India that has carried a version of Coats's written testimony.

The US holds that the recent dip is a combination of two factors: "New Delhi's growing intolerance of this (Pakistan's terror) policy, coupled with a perceived lack of progress in Pakistan's investigations into the January 2016 Pathankot cross-border attack."

That the Trump administration sees no hope for an immediate resolution or betterment of ties is evident from Coats's assessment that "easing of heightened Indo-Pakistani tension, including negotiations to renew official dialogue, in 2017, will probably hinge on a sharp and sustained reduction of cross-border attacks by terrorist groups based in Pakistan and progress in the Pathankot investigation."

Note that US is putting the onus of normalising the relationship on Pakistan. Little wonder that Coats's testimony is being interpreted in India as a much-awaited revision of US policy. But is it really?

Au contraire, it can be argued that this assessment presents no significant revision in US policy and does not change the ground situation in south Asia. Let me explain.

To the extent that Trump administration has been unflattering in recognizing Pakistan's role in destabilising the region and inflicting a proxy war against India, policymakers in New Delhi and Indian media can take some comfort that the US Department of State has ended the patently dubious habit of publicly marking India and Pakistan with the same brush.

At best, this is a hollow victory because Coats has articulated to the US Senate Intelligence Committee nothing that the world or the US didn't already know. This public admonition of Pakistan will neither alter the ground reality in south Asia nor stop the US line of credit for Islamabad. Consequently, it means little tangible benefits for India.

India is a good boy. The world knows that. But to expect Pakistan to stop being the bad boy just because the class monitor wrote its name on the blackboard is unrealistic. Start with a simple question. Why would Pakistan stop using terrorism as the cornerstone of foreign policy?

This time-tested strategy has brought it global notoriety and victimhood, twin narratives that it has successfully (if perversely) translated into billions of dollars and strategic benefits. It may alter its behaviour if there is some penalty involved. So let's parse Coats's comments to see if US has threatened to penalise Pakistan beyond the admonition.

Not only has Trump administration proposed no penalties for Pakistan for fomenting terror in south Asia, it seems to have bought into the same narrative that Pakistan has been peddling for decades while pulling wool over US eyes.

"Pakistan’s pursuit of tactical nuclear weapons potentially lowers the threshold for their use," held Coats in the testimony, adding: "Early deployment during a crisis of smaller, more mobile nuclear weapons would increase the amount of time that systems would be outside the relative security of a storage site, increasing the risk that a coordinated attack by non-state actors might succeed in capturing a complete nuclear weapons."

Here we have in a nutshell the Armageddon that successive US administrations have purchased from Pakistan in return for billions and billions of greenbacks.

As Frud Bezhan wrote in The Diplomat last year, Pakistan army and its powerful lobby groups in Washington have convinced the powers-that-be in the US that America "has only two options" in dealing with Pakistan. "One, Washington must tolerate and bankroll Pakistan's 'double game' in Afghanistan, where it is supports the Afghan insurgency even as it receives around $1 billion a year from Washington for its help in combating those same militants. Or, two, it can pressure Pakistan to root out terrorists and risk destabilizing a nuclear country with unimaginable costs to both Pakistan and the United States."

The "unimaginable costs" obviously mean "nuclear codes and weapons of mass destruction" falling into terrorists' hands and being used against the US or its allies.

This is such a scary nightmare that successive US administrations and their gold star generals have woken up with a start in the night, breaking into a cold sweat and reaching out to the bedside drawer to write the next cheque for Pakistan.

Far from what has been interpreted in Indian media, Coats's testimony is quite clear that as long as Pakistan's double dealing continues, there won't be any imminent threat to US interests.

"The threat to the United States and the West from Pakistani-based terrorist groups will be persistent but diffuse. Plotting against the US homeland will be conducted on a more opportunistic basis or driven by individual members within these groups. Pakistan will probably be able to manage its internal security," he wrote.

The comments are significant in a wholly different way. It gives a peek into US conviction that the Indian state has the ability to absorb the collateral damage arising out Pakistan's proxy war, and US seems to be confident that India will behave as a responsible nation in dealing with the threat.

The subtext is clear: India is alone in its asymmetric battle against Pakistan.

Updated Date: May 13, 2017 15:53 PM

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