With his trademark bluntness, US President Donald Trump has put Pakistan on notice with a virtual ultimatum warning that it “has much to lose” by backing terrorists and held out threat of action against them within its borders.
Outlining his administration’s long-awaited Afghanistan policy on Monday, he accused Pakistan of sheltering “the same organisations that try every single day to kill our people” and warned “It has much to lose by continuing to harbour terrorists”.
“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars, at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” he said. “But that will have to change and that will change immediately.”
In an implied warning to Islamabad, he added, “These killers need to know they have nowhere to hide – that no place is beyond the reach of American arms.”
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, both said on Fox TV this was a warning to Islamabad that the US could act directly inside Pakistan against those attacking Americans in Afghanistan.
Adding to the pressure on Pakistan, in a first for an American President, Trump brought India directly into the equation by assigning a strategic role for India.
He asked India “to help us more with Afghanistan” and said a “critical part of the South Asia strategy for America is to further develop its strategic partnership with India — the world’s largest democracy and a key security and economic partner of the US.”
Trump presented his strategy for the 16-year Afghanistan war in what was billed as an address to the nation at Fort Myer, near Washington, three weeks before the anniversary of 9/11 attacks on the US by the Al Qaeda operating from that country.
Guided by a triumvirate of military generals, Chief of State John Kelly, Secretary of Defence James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Trump stepped back from his campaign rhetoric of pulling out from Afghanistan.
He acknowledged that from the Oval Office he now saw things differently “from his original instincts” after receiving advice on the situation on Afghanistan.
But he also stuck to a core tenet of his foreign policy, limiting American missions: “We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.”
He called the new policy “Principled Realism” and said: “We will no longer use American military might to construct democracies in far away lands, or try to rebuild other countries in our own image – those days are now over.”
Speaking bluntly, he said “The next pillar of our new strategy is a change in our approach to Pakistan” and asserted, “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond.”
“We will also expand authority for American armed forces to target the terrorist and criminal networks that sow violence and chaos throughout Afghanistan,” he said.
“These killers need to know they have nowhere to hide – that no place is beyond the reach of American arms.”
“I have already lifted restrictions the previous administration placed on our warfighters that prevented the Secretary of Defence and our commanders in the field from fully and swiftly waging battle against the enemy,” he said.
But he played the cards close to his chest and did not provide any specifics, only saying, “We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities.”
He added that he would not set any timetables as his predecessor Barack Obama had.
Trump said, “From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating IS (Islamic State), crushing Al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over the country, and stopping mass terror attacks against Americans before they emerge.”
At the same time he held out a vague promise of allowing a role for elements from the Taliban in an Afghan government after the Islamic extremists are decisively defeated.
In a statement after Trump’s speech, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, however, held out an olive branch. “The Taliban has a path to peace and political legitimacy through a negotiated political settlement to end the war. We stand ready to support peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban without preconditions.”
Trump raised the spectre of nuclear threats emanating from Pakistan at two levels.
“We must prevent nuclear weapons and materials from coming into the hands of terrorists and being used against us,” Trump said.
The other danger he saw was from Pakistan’s backing for terrorists against India. “The threat is worse because Pakistan and India are two nuclear-armed states whose tense relations threaten to spiral into conflict,” he said.