US President Donald Trump is going to hold his South Asia review at his country retreat Camp David today. In attendance will be US Vice-President Mike Pence, US National Security Advisor HR McMaster and the US National Security Team.
The US South Asia strategy review basically revolves around Afghanistan and given the increasing voices in the US to take a regional approach and the Trump administration’s pro-India bent, India is expected to become an instrumental player in Afghanistan, much to the chagrin on Pakistan which see India’s increasing influence in Afghanistan inimical to its interests.
That India is on the US radar become clear from the fact that the all powerful US Senate Armed Services Committee, headed by influential lawmaker John McCain, has strongly advocated for a strong Indian role in Afghanistan. “The committee believes that the US needs to recommit to the fight in Afghanistan and that India, as a major defence partner of the US and a contributor to regional security, has a critical role to play in this effort”, the committee report last month said realizing India’s role in Afghanistan’s future, “The committee believes that timely actions by the Indian government to fill identified needs in Afghanistan would significantly benefit the short and long-term security and stability of the region.”
Also, the review meeting is going to be held in the backdrop of pro India and anti Pakistan developments in the US. Trump called Prime Minister Narendra Modi to wish India on its Independence Day while he didn’t extend the courtesy to Pakistan, its so-called ally in the war on terror.
Then the US first termed Syed Salahuddin a global terrorist in June and then declared his ISI supported organization Hizbul Mujahideen a terrorist outfit yesterday. Before it, the US pressure had already forced Pakistan to house arrest Hafiz Saeed in January this year. And to compound Pakistan’s problems, its latest Country Report on Terrorism has called Pakistan a haven for India-centric terrorists whom Pakistan patronizes as freedom fighters of Kashmir.
India has been a trusted friend of Afghanistan for decades and shares cultural ties with its South Asian neighbour. It has played an important role in Afghanistan’s reconstruction in post Taliban era spending around $2 Billion since 2002 on development projects in Afghanistan including its parliament building and committed another $1 Billion last year. The Indian aid basically has been in infrastructure development, health services and military equipments like bullet proof jackets and convoy vehicles. It is also training Afghan soldiers.
India, as a policy, did not provide lethal weaponry to countries facing internal unrest but with Afghanistan, that policy is changing now. Last year India gave four MI25 attack helicopters to Afghanistan and a positive US decision on India’s increased role in Afghanistan can see increased flow of all sorts of Indian military aid to the country, especially when Afghanistan has been seeking support for long.
We go by the report of the committee, the US, in fact, is envisaging a fairly comprehensive strategic role for India in Afghanistan. It talks of trilateral cooperation between India, the US and Afghanistan saying, “This assistance could include logistical support; joint training; combined military planning; threat analysis; intelligence, materiel, and maintenance support for Afghan National Defense and Security Forces for humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, security assistance, and any other areas deemed appropriate.”
Apart from India’s humanitarian role in Afghanistan and its strengthening ties with the US, what can also work in India’s favour is the fact that the US is miffed with Pakistan’s double-dealings.
The world knows Pakistan is the main sponsor of terror in Afghanistan. The US has made a part of its military assistance to Pakistan conditional to its handling of Afghan terror groups including the Haqqani Faction and it withheld the amount for this year and the last year, over $600 million, as it found Pakistan’s claims dubious.
Pakistan’s situation in the US has seen a new low with the inauguration of the Trump Administration. The US has always questioned Pakistan’s dubious role in its war against terror and Al Qaeda and the voices that say that Pakistan be made accountable for billions of US dollars that it receives in US assistance in the name of being a US ally in the war against terror have taken the centre-stage of the US policymaking now.
We can say the inflection point in US-Pakistan ties was US locating Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and deciding to eliminate him without involving Pakistan. That showed how deep was the US distrust of Pakistan. But Pakistan continued double-dealing the US even after that, taking US money to fight terrorists while, at the same time, letting them run amok in Afghanistan.
So much so that the US and NATO commander in Afghanistan General John F. Campbell had described the Haqqani Faction as the most capable threat to the US and coalition forces. Also, Taliban is seeing a new surge. According to different analyses, it now controls 10 per cent of the Afghan territory and 30 per cent of its people. Taliban surge is good for Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan but the US would never allow Taliban to run over Afghanistan again after spending 17 years fighting Taliban and other terror forces of the country.