October 23, 2017

Trump’s hardening stand against Pakistan

President Donald Trump’s administration is seemingly ready to harden its approach toward Pakistan in order to crack down on Pakistan-based militants launching attacks in neighboring Afghanistan, according to some US officials. The likely steps to be taken in this direction indicate an increase in Drones surveillance and attacks on terror hide outs, withholding of some aid, and probably downgrading Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally, they, speaking on condition of anonymity., though some, however, are skeptical of the prospects for success, arguing that years of previous US efforts to curb Pakistan’s support for militant groups have failed, and that already strengthening US ties to India, Pakistan’s arch-enemy, undermine chances of a breakthrough with Islamabad. But the discussions alone suggest a shift toward a more assertive approach to address safe havens in Pakistan that have been blamed for in part helping turn Afghanistan’s war into an intractable conflict. Experts on America’s longest war, in Afghanistan, argue that militant safe havens in Pakistan have allowed Taliban-linked insurgents a place to plot deadly strikes in Afghanistan and regroup after ground offensives. “I believe there will be a much harder US line on Pakistan going forward than there has been in the past,” Hamdullah Mohib, the Afghan ambassador to the United States, said in an interview, without citing specific measures under review.

Where as, on the other hand, Pakistan fiercely denies allowing any militants safe haven on its territory. It bristles at U.S. claims that Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, has ties to Haqqani network militants blamed for some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan. According to a senior Pakistani official, on conditions of anonymity, Pakistan is already doing a lot and that their plate is already full. They have highlighted that militancy within Pakistan has already taken a heavy toll on its people, as, since 2003, almost 22,000 civilians and nearly 7,000 Pakistani security forces have been killed as a result of militancy, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, which tracks violence. Experts also hint at the fact that Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan is also driven in part by fears that India will gain influence in Afghanistan.

The growing danger to Afghanistan from suspected Pakistan-based militants was underscored by a devastating May 31 truck bomb that killed more than 80 people and wounded 460 in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. Their main intelligence agency said the attack – one of the deadliest in memory in Kabul – had been carried out by the Haqqani network with assistance from Pakistan, a charge Islamabad denies.

US’s frustration over  Haqqani’s presence in Pakistan has been building for years. The United States designated the Haqqani network as a terrorist organization in 2012. US Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, then the top U.S. military officer, told Congress in 2011 that the Haqqani network was a “veritable arm” of the ISI. David Sedney, who served as Obama’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia from 2009 to 2013, said the attempt to turn Islamabad into a strategic partner was a “disaster.” He further added that it didn’t affect Pakistan’s behavior one bit, but on the contrary it made Pakistan’s behavior worse. Needless to say that Pakistan has received more than $33 billion in US assistance since 2002, including more than $14 billion in so-called Coalition Support Funds (CSF), a US Defense Department program to reimburse allies that have incurred costs in supporting counter-insurgency operations. Last year, the Pentagon decided not to pay Pakistan $300 million in CSF funding after then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter declined to sign authorization that Pakistan was taking adequate action against the Haqqani network.

Another option under review is broadening a drone campaign to penetrate deeper into Pakistan to target Haqqani fighters and other militants blamed for attacks in Afghanistan, US officials and a Pakistan expert said. “Now the Americans will be saying that, since, you aren’t taking out our enemies, so therefore we are taking them out ourselves,” the Pakistan expert, who declined to be identified, said. Pakistan’s army chief of staff,  last week criticized “unilateral actions” such as drone strikes as “counterproductive and against the spirit of ongoing cooperation and intelligence sharing being diligently undertaken by Pakistan”.


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