As Pakistan falters, India-US Alliance blossoms as Trump works on S Asia policy

With VK Singh meeting US secretary of state Rex Tillerson in Manila on the sidelines of the ASEAN foreign ministers meeting, it caps a week of renewed engagement between India and the US. It comes at a time when the Trump administration is working on a South Asia policy to deal with one of the longest and most difficult wars in Afghanistan.

Senior ranking officials from State, Pentagon and National Security Council were in India this week to participate in a 1.5 track dialogue organised by the MEA and think tank Ananta Centre. Alice Wells, acting assistant secretary for south Asia, Lisa Curtis, senior director in NSC and Cara Abercrombie from the Pentagon met foreign secretary Jaishankar and NSA Ajit Doval among others.

The fact that India is watching the Trump administration’s evolving South Asia/Af-Pak policy with interest was clear from foreign minister Sushma Swaraj’s statement at the Indo-US forum this week. She said, “We deeply appreciate the sacrifices made by the US to preserve peace, security and democracy in Afghanistan.

However, it is important that the international community, particularly the US, must remain engaged in Afghanistan so that the gains of last 16 years are not frittered away.” India has just added another $1 billion to its assistance to Afghanistan. MEA informed Parliament this week that “Rs 350 crores have been currently earmarked for support to Afghanistan under Budget Estimates – 2017-2018.

Trump, said sources, is looking for a new approach because the current one is not going anywhere. According to reports, Trump complained to his military generals that the US was “not winning” in Afghanistan. The effort, therefore, is to look at new approaches, said sources familiar with the exercise.

The core of the new policy seems to rest on these pillars: bolstering the security forces in Afghanistan, bringing down training missions, pursuing terror groups like ISIS and al-Qaida and pushing the Ghani government to reform to some level of efficiency. The peace and reconciliation process, which was such an important part in the Obama administration policy, could be placed in a regional context that will involve Afghanistan’s neighbours — which makes sense, given the dynamics that fuel Taliban’s continued relevance in Afghanistan.

The new policy, which has not yet been articulated by the US government, differs most from the Obama iteration in that it might move away from a time-based effort. Some of these elements have been tossed around by various officials in the Trump administration, mainly Mattis and Tillerson, in their remarks in Australia recently. The NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen Nicholson described the war as a “stalemate” and asked for “few thousand” extra troops.

“Offensive capability is what will break the stalemate in Afghanistan,” he said in February. But the policy, sources said, would be deeper and broader than merely additional troops. The end-game at present is not clear to the US or the region — is it to win the war against the Taliban or to do a peace deal with them, or a sequence of one following the other.

The US’ NSC spokesperson addressed this policy debate. “The president’s national security team is developing a comprehensive, integrated strategy for South Asia that utilizes all aspects of our national power to address this complex region. … That strategy has been worked carefully in the interagency process and while no decision has been made the president’s team continues to develop options for him that address threats and opportunities to America arising from this vital region.”

While the Trump administration is demonstrably less enamoured of Pakistan than previous US governments, Washington is looking to use a “mix of tools” persuade Pakistan to cooperate with the US in Afghanistan. In previous years, Pakistan has used these openings to ask for more weapons and greater leeway against India. That’s something India would like to avoid.





Source:- TNN

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