Calls for the Trump administration to get tough with Pakistan over its ambivalence toward the Afghan Taliban are misguided and likely to be counterproductive. The country has enough problems with Islamist terrorby Rupert Stone / March 10, 2017 / Leave a comment
Pakistan is in turmoil after a series of terrorist attacks killed more than 130 people in recent weeks. Its government has been quick to react, rounding up suspects and launching a major new paramilitary operation in Punjab. Tensions with the Afghan government also escalated when Pakistan blamed militants in Afghanistan for the attacks and shelled suspected camps across the border.
The new administration of President Donald Trump has largely remained silent throughout, and has yet to present its strategy towards Pakistan or its neighbour, Afghanistan. But, as Trump drags his feet, experts in the US are urging him to crack the whip. Recent articles in the American press have called for Pakistan to be punished for its support of the Afghan Taliban and similar groups. Frustration has been growing in Congress, too, which restricted military aid last year.
Pakistan has long been accused of aiding the anti-government insurgency in Afghanistan by granting members of the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network sanctuary in its territory. As a result, US pundits have proposed stopping American security assistance to Pakistan entirely, rescinding Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally, and even designating the country as a state sponsor of terrorism.
But such draconian measures are unlikely to work and could even backfire.
Coercion has not been particularly successful in the past. As Secretary of Defense James Mattis told Congress in January, attaching conditions to US aid packages has “a mixed history.” After 9/11 the Bush administration pressed former president Musharraf to hunt down al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban fighters. Musharraf did help the US capture top al-Qaeda suspects, but he never really targeted the Afghan Taliban (which was to large extent the creation of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI).
Today the Afghan Taliban is at war with the Afghan government, which is allied with Pakistan’s arch-enemy, India. New Delhi is trying to encircle Pakistan, it is believed, by increasing its influence in Kabul. Such fears—some might say paranoia—have determined Pakistani strategic thinking about its neighbour for decades. And they will likely persist, as tensions with India have grown again recently over the disputed region of Kashmir.
The US could impose sanctions on Pakistan. But China and Russia are unlikely to cooperate, limiting the impact of such a move. Besides,…