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3-min read

Opinion | Trump Hauls Pakistan Over Coals, But Will He Act Against Hafiz Saeed And Dawood?

Such a blunt American presidential warning to Pakistan should have come a decade and half ago in the aftermath of 9/11 but pragmatic requirements of Washington needing Islamabad's support to militarily oust Taliban government from Afghanistan prevented Americans from dealing squarely the country.

Rajeev Sharma |

Updated:January 9, 2018, 6:30 PM IST
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Opinion | Trump Hauls Pakistan Over Coals, But Will He Act Against Hafiz Saeed And Dawood?
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Let’s cut to the bone upfront. United States President Donald Trump’s hauling Pakistan over the coals over the issue of harbouring terrorists, though music to Indian ears, has come a tad late. Or shall we say, several presidencies late!

Such a blunt American presidential warning to Pakistan should have come a decade and half ago in the aftermath of 9/11 but pragmatic requirements of Washington needing Islamabad's support to militarily oust Taliban government from Afghanistan prevented Americans from dealing squarely with the world factory of Islamist brand of terrorism: Pakistan.

Even a decade ago would have been a more opportune time for America to deal more sternly with Pakistan and such blunt warnings like Trump held out now for Pakistan would have produced the desired impact then.

But now the US has lost its strategic leverage over Pakistan and ceded this privilege to China. Pakistan is firmly in the iron grip of China today like once it used to be under America's control. The political adage that Pakistan is ruled by three A's – Allah, Army and America, though not necessarily in that order – is no longer applicable to Pakistan in its entirety as the third 'A' has been marginalized.

While outlining his South Asia strategy in his 26-minute speech before an audience of two thousand people, Trump went hammer and tongs against Pakistan. He remarked thus: "We can no longer be silent about Pakistan's safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond … But Pakistan has also sheltered the same organisations that try every single day to kill our people … But that will have to change. That will change immediately. No partnership can survive a country's harbouring of militants and terrorists who target US service members and officials. It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order, and to peace.”

No US President before Trump said such harsh words against Pakistan and that too in a policy statement. This is definitely good for India but unfortunately this tough-speak may remain mere posturing only. It’s not that the US lacks diplomatic clout and strategic wherewithal to force Pakistan to fall in line, but the question is whether Trump will walk his talk or he would simply move on after this hard talk, doing nothing?

If Trump is indeed honest and sincere about forcing a change in the Pakistani mindset of using terrorism as an instrument of its foreign policy then he needs to get after well known terror fountainheads like Hafiz Saeed and Dawood Ibrahim against whom the US and the United Nations have long advocated strict action. This has been a pending business for long.

That said, there is one clear takeaway from Trump's speech: that he has finally spelt out his administration’s Pakistan policy for the first time in over seven months and that he is broadly pursuing strategic policies like a mainstream American politician, not in a maverick fashion. His exhortations to India to play a more pro-active role in Afghanistan too is a welcome development from the Indian viewpoint as Pakistan has been pressuring the international community for years to delimit India's role in Afghanistan.

However, Trump put in a caveat which would irk the Indians no end by asking New Delhi to provide more economic assistance to Afghanistan since "India makes billions of dollars in trade with the US". This is a well known Trump fetish. The businessman President has a tendency of monetizing every relationship. Someone should have told him that Indian contributions towards reconstruction of the war-torn Afghanistan are second to none as India has already funneled over $2.2 billion in Afghanistan and a billion dollars worth more aid is in the pipeline. No other country has loosened its purse strings for Afghanistan the way India has done in past fifteen years.

Despite the red marks and the between-the-cup-and-the-lip kind of situations in the wake of his now enunciated Af-Pak strategy, Trump's remarks are a far cry from his predecessor Barack Obama. In his famous West Point policy speech on Af-Pak on 1 December 2009, Obama had spoken in glowing terms of Pakistan's fight against terrorism and underscored the need for bolstering America's partnership with Pakistan.

Trump seems to have come out of that mindset at least!

Rajeev Sharma is a strategic analyst and columnist who tweets at @Kishkindha (views are personal)

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| Edited by: Ashish Yechury
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