President Donald Trump’s warning to Pakistan to put an “immediate” end to harboring militants operating in Afghanistan didn’t spell out the consequences of defiance or suggest a new strategy to get it to yield to longstanding US demands, analysts said today. They also said that isolating Pakistan could unsettle the US relationship with Islamabad and push it closer to Russia, China and Iran, further complicating efforts to stabilize the region.
“The idea of US leverage in Pakistan is deeply exaggerated,” Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the US- based Wilson Center’s Asia Program, said in an email to The Associated Press. “No matter the punishment, policy, or inducement, there’s little reason to believe that Pakistan will change its ways. “Pakistan has an unshakeable strategic interest in maintaining ties to militant groups like the Taliban because they help keep Pakistan’s Indian enemy at bay in Afghanistan,” he added.
In a speech last night on his plan for the 16-year war in Afghanistan, Trump warned of the threat to US security from militant groups operating there and in neighboring Pakistan. “Today, 20 US-designated foreign terrorist organizations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan the highest concentration in any region anywhere in the world,” he said. “For its part, Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror.”
The threat is compounded by the fact that both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers, he said, and their hostile relationship could spiral out of control. “And that could happen,” Trump said.
Some in Pakistan were baffled by his later statement demanding that India get more involved in Afghanistan, a scenario dreaded by Islamabad and the reason cited most often for Pakistan’s support of the Taliban as a bulwark against India’s influence in Afghanistan.
“Upgrading the Indian role in Afghanistan basically means perpetuating the hostilities,” said Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Islamabad-based Center for Research and Security Studies.
Pakistani Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal told reporters that his country “has rendered unmatched sacrifices in the war on terror. Our war against terrorism is not because of the United States; we will continue this war.”
US Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale met today with Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, according to a government statement, which also announced a meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “in the next few days” in Washington.
The US policy toward Afghanistan and South Asia will feature prominently in their meeting, it said.
While Trump’s speech was widely criticized in Pakistan by politicians of all parties, it was welcomed by Afghanistan’s shared leadership of President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
Abdullah told a news conference the US strategy marks a unique opportunity to ultimately achieve peaceful objectives in the region.
“The regional aspect of this strategy is very clear. It shows that the problem was very well identified,” he said, referring to Trump’s singling out of Pakistan.
But security analyst Amir Rana, director of the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, warned that isolating Pakistan as the sole culprit could stymie efforts to stabilise the region or bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.