Backed by China, Pak is unlikely to change support for terror substantially | analysis | Hindustan Times
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Backed by China, Pak is unlikely to change support for terror substantially

A new report by the Heritage Foundation and Hudson Institute argues that the United States should no longer sacrifice its anti-terrorism principles in the region for the sake of even-handedness and that there is no shared US-Pakistan interest in counter-terrorism. But on the whole, India will have to deal with cross-border challenges on its own

analysis Updated: Mar 23, 2017 15:36 IST
The detention of Hafiz Saeed, the leader of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks, is a tactical measure adopted by Islamabad to deflect external pressure
The detention of Hafiz Saeed, the leader of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks, is a tactical measure adopted by Islamabad to deflect external pressure(AP)

The Heritage Foundation and the Hudson Institute, two prestigious and conservative think-tanks in the United States, have just released a joint report entitled, A New US Approach to Pakistan: Enforcing Aid Conditions Without Cutting Ties. The group which put the report together includes well-known analysts like Bruce Riedel, Hussain Haqqani and Lisa Curtis. It merits attention as it seeks to recommend a fresh policy direction on Pakistan to the Trump administration. How should India view its policy prescriptions and are these really new?

The report suggests an approach which at first sight appears encouraging: “The US should no longer sacrifice its anti-terrorism principles in the region for the sake of pursuing an “even-handed” South Asia policy, but rather should levy costs on Pakistan for policies that help perpetuate terrorism in the region. In particular, US officials must break the habit of trying to balance policies towards India and Pakistan and should instead pursue shared mutual interests with each. At the same time, the US should be modest about its ability to bridge what divides India and Pakistan.”

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This is de-hyphenation which was already conceded when the Bush administration decided to conclude a landmark nuclear deal with India in 2005, while rejecting it for Pakistan. Furthermore, after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, in which US citizens too were killed, India-US counter-terrorism cooperation extended to cover Pakistan-based persons and activities. On the face of it the US has already given up on an even-handed approach and Pakistan complains about this incessantly.

India and the US have mutual interests that have brought the two countries into a strategic partnership. These include managing the emergence of China as a substantial economic and military power. There is a convergent interest in confronting international terrorism which threatens the security of both countries. There are expanding economic and commercial interests. But what are the “shared mutual interests” which the US still seeks to pursue with Pakistan?

Given Pakistan’s ever deeper alliance with China, clearly the country cannot be a part of managing the China challenge. China has overtaken the US as Pakistan’s main benefactor and any US attempt to impose economic costs on Pakistan is likely to be ineffective as long as China is ready to fill the breach unlike in the past when it could not be a substitute for the US.

Read | US should stop getting manipulated by Pak, cease all aid: Ex-Pentagon official

Is there a shared US-Pakistan interest on counter-terrorism? Clearly not since, as the report argues, Pakistan’s reliance on terrorist groups to advance its perceived interests, is what makes it necessary to impose costs on Pakistan, for example, by holding out the threat of declaring it a state sponsor of terrorism. Nor can one buy the report’s argument that China and Russia would join hands with the US in trying to wean Pakistan away from the use of terrorism as an instrument of State policy. We have seen the Chinese brazenly preventing the listing of Masood Azhar, the Jaise-e-Mohammad chief in the U.N. list of terrorists.

Now even Russia believes that Pakistan could be part of the answer to regional terrorism and Islamic radicalisation, not just their principal breeding ground. China, Russia, US and other western countries display the same syndrome: As long as Pakistan selectively and intermittently continues to share scraps of intelligence and hands over occasional suspects to them, they are unwillingly to look at counter-terrorism in a larger strategic context. Therefore, India-specific terrorist groups such as JeM and LeT continue to flourish on Pakistan soil and cross-border terrorism against India and Afghanistan is pursued with impunity.

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The report recommends imposition of clear benchmarks which Pakistan must achieve on issues such as terrorism or non-proliferation to qualify for US and western economic support. These have been imposed in the past but without changing Pakistani behaviour. It is also suggested that the option of continuing drone attacks against targets inside Pakistan should be retained. However, US drone attacks by themselves have achieved little so far.

Most importantly, the authors are categorical in their assertion that a complete breakdown of US-Pakistan relations must be avoided. This gives a signal to Pakistan that there is considerable space still available to persist with cross-border terrorism; at the most some tactical measures to deflect external pressures, such as the house arrest of LeT chief Hafiz Saeed, may be temporarily adopted as has been witnessed in the past.

What may create an impact in Islamabad may in fact be the possibility of there being a complete breakdown in relations with the US if Pakistan continues to indulge in terrorism. But successive US administrations have considered this a step too far and this is unlikely to change.

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The depressing conclusion for India is that it will have to deal with the cross-border challenge mostly on its own. It is helpful to have the US and international pressure on Pakistan but this should be seen as a modest supplement to our own efforts.

The report recognises the limits of the prescriptions it advances: “Convincing Pakistan to give up its terrorist proxies may require a basic change in Islamabad’s regional security calculus. This is indeed a tall order that may in the end fail. But given the stakes for the global fight against terrorism and regional conflict, it is a goal well worth the new administration’s pursuing.”

One may say with confidence that the “new approach” is unlikely to change what is an entrenched the security calculus in Islamabad which treats India as the existential threat to Pakistan.

Shyam Saran, former foreign secretary, is senior fellow at CPR, New Delhi

The views expressed are personal