An American president finally calls Pakistan to account for its support of terrorism

Donald Trump did something last night during his speech that no American president in the last 15 years has done.  He called out Pakistan for its support for terrorist groups and, specifically, terrorists who kill a lot of Americans in Afghanistan.

Presidents Bush and Obama sidestepped the issue.  Their preference was to bribe the Pakistanis by giving them billions in military and economic aid.  It didn't work.  While, as Trump mentioned, U.S. military and intelligence received valuable assistance, particularly from the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), the government refused to expel several dozen domestic and trans-national terrorist groups who operate freely in Pakistan.  Many of these groups target American servicemen in Afghanistan.  Many more are used by Pakistan to attack India in and around the disputed region of Kashmir.

Trump made it clear that the U.S. had reached the end of their patience with Pakistan and would no longer tolerate its support for terrorists who kill Americans and destabilize the Afghan government.


"We can no longer be silent about Pakistan's safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond," the Republican president said. "Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists."

Trump's comments signal a potential break from efforts by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who, despite intense and often-voiced frustration with Islamabad, preferred to use money and diplomacy to push Pakistan to stop giving Afghan Taliban militants support and sanctuary.

The speech reflected the Trump administration's preference for the stick over the carrot. Cracking down on Pakistan was "one of the necessary changes in U.S. policy" if the latest strategy for Afghanistan is going to succeed, a senior White House aide said.

The Pakistani embassy declined to offer immediate comment.

As they reviewed their South Asia strategy over the past several months, Trump aides split into two, somewhat overlapping camps on Pakistan, according to sources with knowledge of the talks. Both groups agreed it was time to raise the pressure on Islamabad but differed in how far to go.

One group pushed measures such as cutting off all U.S. military aid and revoking Pakistan's status as a major non-NATO ally. The other camp argued for more incremental steps to avoid losing Islamabad's cooperation entirely and sparking more violence by Pakistan-backed militant groups.

Trump leaned more toward the more hardline camp, as did CIA director Mike Pompeo, according to a person familiar with the issue. Trump wanted to cut off all military aid to Pakistan, questioning whether the billions spent there had gained the United States anything, this person added.

But several of Trump's top aides, including Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, preferred a softer approach to the nuclear-armed country of 195 million. The Pentagon was especially worried about keeping U.S. access to Pakistani transportation corridors need to supply troops in Afghanistan, although the U.S. has developed alternative supply lines over the years.

The key to understanding why the U.S. has tolerated Pakistan's double-dealing on terrorism for so long is a question of logistics.  The safest and shortest route to resupply American troops in Afghanistan is through Pakistan.  Cargo is shipped to the seaport in Karachi, where it wends its way for 1,000 miles to Kabul.  Another route through Pakistan terminates in the south.  The military also relies on Pakistan to refine about 80% of the fuel used to supply American troops.

What about other supply routes?  The second major point of entry for U.S. supplies to Pakistan comes through the port of Riga in Latvia.  The supplies then make a 3,200-mile trip through torturous terrain by train to reach Kabul.  Other routes are more unreliable and difficult.  The Northern Distribution Network includes routes through unstable Uzbekistan and a dangerous route through Balochistan, were several terrorist groups are based.

When we had 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, there was no other choice but to maintain good relations with Pakistan.  But now, with fewer than 10,000 troops in the country, we don't need the Pakistanis as much as we did.  Of course, there are other reasons to maintain a relationship with Pakistan.  It is, after all, a nuclear power, and the U.S. has a large role to play in maintaining the peace between India and Pakistan.

But with President Trump solidifying our relationship with the Indian government and Prime Minister Modi, the U.S. was presented with an opportunity to play the game a lot tougher than Bush or Obama did.  In fact, India is the key to this new strategy.

Hindu Times:

India on Tuesday welcomed United States President Donald Trump's new policy on Afghanistan. saying his move will help target "safe havens" of terrorism in South Asia. Senior diplomats said that his call for an end to Pakistan's involvement in terrorism in Afghanistan and his support for Afghan-led peace process addressed a core Indian concern.

"We welcome 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," said the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in a statement.

Speaking to The Hindu, the senior diplomats said Mr. Trump had supported long-held Indian foreign policy principles of non-intervention and non-interference and ended uncertainties over the U.S.' involvement in Afghanistan.

"We welcome the move to have an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process to ensure peace and stability in Afghanistan. By asking the Afghans to take charge of their internal affairs, President Trump has vindicated the position that India first took in the 1980s and have maintained ever since," said Satinder Lambah, former Special Envoy of the Prime Minister of India on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Trump is using India as no other president has tried to.  More than a counterweight to Pakistan's influence, Trump is encouraging India to partner with the U.S. to stabilize Afghanistan.  The move cannot be lost on Islamabad, which has grown used to Washington's tiptoeing around the India-Pak competition.

This puts even more pressure on Pakistan to do something about the terror groups it has sometimes created, sometimes encouraged, and many times looked the other way from.  The list of terrorist groups working out of Pakistan is extraordinary and includes some bad, vicious actors.  The Haqanni Network is a particularly brutal organization that kills and maims indiscriminately – including U.S. troops in Afghanistan.  Another Pakistani client, Lashkar-e-Taiba, carried out the 2008 attack in Mumbai, India that killed 171 people. 

Many of the terrorist groups in Pakistan are domestic and target the government, including the Pakistan Taliban, which is a different organization from the Afghan Taliban.  That's what Trump was talking about when he mentioned Pakistan's own sacrifices in battling terrorism.  The Pakistan Taliban has been carrying out a low-level insurgency against the government and controls territory in the Northwest Frontier Province. 

But Trump has sent the strongest possible signal that the U.S., while understanding its own battles with terrorism, will not tolerate Pakistan's use of extremist and terrorist groups to keep Afghanistan weak.  The long game is to wait out American involvement in Afghanistan and then move in to make Kabul a puppet regime.  Given the sacrifice of U.S. blood and treasure in Afghanistan, that would be unacceptable to the United States.

Pakistan has been placed on notice that it is risking not only the billion dollars we are currently providing in military and economic assistance, but also its status as a regional power.  U.S. support could help India become the dominant power in the area.  The U.S. has tried to maintain an even-handed approach to the India-Pak rivalry.  A decided tipping toward India by the U.S. would be a blow to Pakistan.

Last month, the U.S. cut off $50 million in aid to Pakistan.  That's the tip of the iceberg.  Unless Pakistan shows the U.S. with deeds, not words, that it is changing its policy, there will be a realignment that will not favor Pakistan and leave it more vulnerable to domestic terror groups.

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