Pakistan unlikely to expand anti-terror fight

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is unlikely to expand its anti-terror fight despite the hardline approach taken by the Trump administration, with threats of further punitive measures to push it to destroy the alleged safe havens of the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network.
The US has long been pushing Pakistan to deny space to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, but the pressure has never been so intense and visible as has been during last few days.
Events of the past few days starting from Trump’s stinging tweet to suspend entire security assistance have suggested that Washington is willing to risk its 16-year alliance with Pakistan to get the job done in Afghanistan.
It is believed that senior military officials through informal channels have already conveyed to the Pakistani military authorities about their ‘specific demands’.

“Our expectations are straightforward,” Pentagon spokesman Colonel Rob Manning told reporters in Washington on Monday. “[The] Taliban and Haqqani leadership and attack planners should no longer be able to find safe haven or conduct operations from Pakistani soil,” he added.

Although he did not share details, the US is thought to have identified ‘certain targets and specific actions’ that it wants from Pakistan to undertake in stipulated time frame.

Pakistan was informed that timely action on the US demands would lead to immediate restoration of around $1 billion of security assistance that Washington suspended just days after Trump’s New Year tweet.

But interaction with at least two senior Pakistani officials, who have direct knowledge of the issue, suggested that Pakistan was not going to accept any fresh US demands.

Both the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told media that in Pakistan’s assessment there was no organised infrastructure of any militant outfit – including the Haqqani network.

“Therefore, the US demand does not hold any ground,” said one of the officials, who gave a rare insight into thinking of the Pakistani policymakers in the wake of Trump’s onslaught.

After the Trump’s tweet, the country’s civil and military leadership had three-hour-long discussions and consultations. One of the talking points was whether Pakistan could do more. However, there was consensus in the National Security Committee (NSC) meeting that Pakistan must not give in to the US pressure.

Their decision was based on the fact that Pakistan had already done enough and any fresh commitment would be tantamount to accepting the oft-repeated allegations that Islamabad is responsible for the failures in Afghanistan.

But the larger purpose behind Pakistan’s reluctance to accept US demands is attributed to its policy decision that solution to the Afghan problem hinges on sustained peace talks.

And if there is a need of the use of force, such a decision has to be taken with consensus by taking on board other regional players including China, Russia and Iran, argued another official.

But Pakistan’s position could antagonise the Trump administration, which may resort to further punitive measures. The US already made it clear that it would no more accept Pakistan’s current approach towards the fight against terrorism.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief Mike Pompeo accused Pakistan of providing shelter to terrorists who target US citizens, saying this is “no longer going to be acceptable”.

But Pakistani authorities are confident that the Trump administration despite its rhetoric would not go beyond a certain point.

Their confidence stems from the fact that Pakistan has considerable leverage over the US. The presence of around 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan means that they not only have to rely on Pakistan for key supply lines but also the Afghan endgame.

Pakistan’s position has been endorsed by some of the senior American diplomats who served in Islamabad and have considerable experience and knowledge of the intricacies involved in the Afghan imbroglio.

In an article published in The New York Times, former US ambassador Richard Olson admitted that the Trump’s new strategy on Pakistan had little chances of success.

“While perhaps it is emotionally satisfying to penalise a country that has supported American enemies in Afghanistan for the past 16 years, the administration’s approach is unlikely to work. Pakistan has greater leverage over us than many imagine,” Olson wrote.

He said the ultimate answer to the Pakistan conundrum was to start a diplomatic initiative to bring peace to Afghanistan by opening talks with the Taliban.

“The Trump administration has publicly stated that it sees the conflict ending only through a negotiated solution. It is difficult to understand why no such diplomatic initiative had been started,” Olson concluded with an observation that ironically supports Pakistan viewpoint.

Meanwhile, speaking at a seminar in Islamabad, Defence Minister Khurrum Dastagir disclosed that Pakistan had suspended military and intelligence cooperation with the United States in the wake of Trump’s diatribe.

“Field of intelligence cooperation and defence cooperation which we have suspended and my colleague  Khawja Asif correctly pointed that out,” Kurrum said.

However, he added that the ground and air lines of communications were still operational. “Its a leverage we want to use at an appropriate time,” the minister further said hinting that Pakistan could suspend key supply lines for the US forces in Afghanistan.