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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Trump may take a harder line with Pakistan and launch more drone attacks

U.S. president Donald Trump is said to be considering a hard-line approach to relations with Pakistan in order to crack down on Pakistan-based militants who are launching attacks in Afghanistan.

Two U.S. officials made the claim to Reuters. Possible moves being discussed include expanding U.S. drone strikes, withholding some aid, and even downgrading Pakistan as a major non-NATO ally. The two officials insisted on being anonymous. Other U.S. officials believe that hardening policy will not change Pakistan's behavior of support for militant groups, as they see them as key to having influence in Afghanistan. The U.S. strengthening ties with India, a prime foe of Pakistan, is also likely to prevent any breakthrough with Pakistan. U.S. officials said that they seek greater cooperation with Pakistan rather than any rupture of ties. However, adopting a hard line could very well end up rupturing ties. There is to be a review due by mid-July of policy in the region including of strategy to guide the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan.
The Pakistan embassy in Washington warned that the problems the U.S. and Afghan forces were facing in Afghanistan should not be blamed on Pakistan but on internal troubles within the country. The embassy also pointed to its own internal battle with militants often quite costly in terms of casualties. The press minister for the embassy Abid Saeed said: "Singling out Pakistan and pinning the entire blame on Pakistan for the situation in Afghanistan is neither fair nor accurate, nor is it borne out by the ground realities." However, experts say that more pressure is needed on militants within Pakistan who target Afghanistan or more U.S. troops will not be able to put enough pressure on the Taliban to negotiate a peace. The Taliban claim that they will not negotiate a peace in any event unless U.S. troops leave Afghanistan.
The new Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada issued a statement in which he said that the main obstacle to peace in Afghanistan was the presence of U.S. troops. He repeated what he said a year ago that before there could be peace, the U.S. and other foreign troops must leave Afghanistan. It is sixteen years now but the U.S. still thinks it can put pressure on the Taliban to sign a peace deal while foreign troops are still propping up the Afghan government.
Even though the U.S. was unable to defeat the Taliban with 100,000 troops in the country, apparently Trump thinks that by taking a harder line with Pakistan and sending a few thousand more troops to Afghanistan he is going to pressure the Taliban into making peace. The Afghan ambassador to the U.S., Hamdullah Mohib said that he thought that the US would take a harder line towards Pakistan than it has in the past. The result will probably be for Pakistan to create more difficulties for the U.S. in Afghanistan and also a point blank refusal to allow any drone attacks. A majority of the Pakistani public would support such a move.
The U.S. claims that the Pakistani spy agency the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has ties to the Haqqani network of militants who are thought to be responsible for some deadly attacks in Afghanistan. The Afghan government too has accused Pakistan as giving safe haven to the militants. Pakistan denies this. While there may be some truth to the accusations Pakistan has lost about 7,000 of its security forces and about 22,000 civilians as a result of militant activity since 2003.
There are some within the U.S. government and in various think tanks who do not consider Pakistan an ally at all. The U.S. has designated the Haggani network that Pakistan is alleged to support a terrorist organization in 2012. Navy Admiral Mike Mullen a top U.S. military officer told the U.S. Congress in 2011 that the Haqqani net was a veritable arm of the Pakistani ISI. David Sedney, who was Obama's deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan from 2009 to 2013 claims that Obama's attempt to make Pakistan a strategic partner failed miserably and said that it made Pakistan's behavior even worse. This appears very one-sided. Pakistan in effect allowed drone attacks on its territory in the face of tremendous political opposition. It also eventually carried out military operations in the territories that were quite costly in casualties for their security forces. The U.S. has unrealistic expectations of what Pakistan will do for it including giving up any influence on events in neighbouring Afghanistan through support of rebel forces there.
The U.S. has given considerable aid since 2002 $33 billion and that included Coalition Support Funds (CSF) that is meant to reimburse allies that incurred costs in supporting counter-insurgency operations. Pakistan did incur heavy costs in its operations in conflicts with various militant groups in the tribal areas of north-west Pakistan. However, the U.S. argues that Pakistan has failed to take action against the Haqqani network and last year withheld $300 million in CSF funding to Pakistan. US officials say the Trump administration may do the same. Moves such as this would encourage China to invest even more than the $60 billion it has already invested in Pakistan.
The U.S. is apparently considering drone attacks on the Haqqani network in Pakistan. This is simply asking for an aggressive response from Pakistan that could even involve shooting down U.S. drones. Just a few days ago Pakistan shot down an Iranian drone that strayed into Pakistani territory. Pakistani Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakari said at the time that Pakistan would not tolerate any drone strikes in its territory as they violated the sovereignty of the country. In the past, it has seemed clear that Pakistan at the very least tolerated US drone attacks but should those attacks target groups that the Pakistani ISI support that tolerance could quickly evaporate and the U.S. could face a situation where its drones would actually be shot out of the sky. Even if that does not happen one could expect China to have increasing influence in Pakistan and even be involved in trying to establish peace in Afghanistan.

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