Trump's AfPak Speech Has 'Bigly' Ramifications For India: Here's Why
No US President, neither Obama nor George W Bush, explicitly mentioned India in a speech concerning AfPak policy. Not only did Trump mention India, he also made it clear that he expects India to do more in Afghanistan.
US President Donald Trump addresses the nation from Fort Myer, Virginia, in US (Reuters)
US President Donald Trump’s speech on his new AfPak policy took more than six months coming, but he did not disappoint both in tone and tenor. This marks a significant shift in US policy for this region, for more than one reason.
For starters, no US President, neither Obama nor George W Bush, explicitly mentioned India in a speech concerning AfPak policy. Not only did Trump mention India, he also made it clear that he expects India to do more in Afghanistan. Just like on the climate change issue, on Afghanistan too, Trump linked India’s flourishing trade with the US to demand a greater pound of flesh in Afghanistan.
“India makes billions of dollars from us in trade, so we expect them to play a greater role in Afghanistan, especially in economic and development assistance,” he said.
Trump has an annoying and frankly naive habit of linking everything with trade. When he announced that the US was pulling out of the Paris climate accord, again he wrongly accused both India and China of ripping the US off billions of dollars in trade. He is using the same trade analogy here.
Not only is this patently wrong, it makes for a bad sales pitch. If he expects India to play a greater role in Afghanistan, his first words cannot be, “Hey India, you are ripping us off, so…” India trades more than 65 billion dollars of goods with the US every year. But that’s not some American benevolence. It’s a two-way street.
Coming back to Afghanistan, India already contributes 2 billion dollars to Afghanistan in Development Partnership Assistance, which is the single largest outlay for any third country. Recently, a proposal to up that by another billion dollars has been approved. It’ll be difficult for India to further increase its contribution.
India also helps build roads in Afghanistan through the Border Roads Organisation. It recently finished building a massive dam and hydro-electric project in Herat and also helped with the construction of Afghanistan’s new Parliament building. India is already doing for Afghanistan more than what it does in any other country. Too expect more from New Delhi would be stretching it too thin.
Trump’s speech only talks about economic and development assistance. But if he were to expect India to become a net security provider, that would be a really slippery slope to go down on. The last thing the Afghans want is a Hindu Army in the Hindukush. That’s enough for ISIS and Al Qaeda to directly target Indian interests and people, both at home and abroad. It would an invitation for disaster and India must refrain from any temptation to play a military role in Afghanistan.
The last time India played a military role in a foreign country was in the Sri Lankan civil war with the IPKF. That was a disaster and we would be ill-advised to go down that same road.
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