True to form, Indians have seen in Mr Trump’s words and action a vindication of their thinking that Pakistan is a state sponsor of terrorism.
In his first tweet of the year, US President Donald Trump roasted Pakistan on Monday, saying that in return for $33 billion given to Islamabad since 2001 to fight against terrorism, all that America had got in return was “lies and deceit”, and the terrorists that Pakistan gave sanctuary to were attacking US soldiers in Afghanistan. Washington has also suspended a military aid package of $255 million.
The Pakistanis have returned the compliment. Defence minister Khurram Dastgir Khan said in response that his country had got only “invective and mistrust” from the US in return for offering land and air communication facilities, military bases and intelligence support. Islamabad has also asked Washington not to blame it for America’s own failure in resolving the situation in Afghanistan.
True to form, Indians have seen in Mr Trump’s words and action a vindication of their thinking that Pakistan is a state sponsor of terrorism. This is hardly a mature reaction. New Delhi must be clear that Washington is not acting to please any country, and that it is seeking to change the dynamics in the AfPak theatre for its own reasons.
Some of these include the fact of China and Russia being far more energetic in this region than earlier, giving a sense of comfort to Islamabad — and in that sense giving Islamabad the sense that it has managed to develop options. It is clear enough though that Pakistan wouldn’t like to lose America as a long-term patron. Essentially, the two countries are engaged in seeking a better working relationship. There is very little in all this for India.
India must deal with Pakistan on its own terms, without being influenced by US-Pakistan relations or without worrying about what the Americans would think. This was the template of Indian policy once, but has been lost since the first NDA government of Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Over the years, Pakistan has used terrorism as barely concealed official policy to keep its neighbours India and Afghanistan unsettled and to gain influence in Afghanistan’s politics. There are no two ways about this. Islamabad has also milked the US in every way — money and weapons — in the name of fighting terrorism.
But the point is simply this. President Trump has not made a discovery. In only slightly less stinging ways, his last three predecessors have made the same point that he has. But the US did not push the issue beyond a point. Apparently, the present US leader’s language is meant to be a warning — better and more truthful behaviour this time around, or else!
It will be surprising if the Americans simply cast Pakistan out. India needs to look out for the terms on which the two countries predicate their new dynamics, and ensure that this does not include watering down India’s position in Kabul.