Trump urged to formulate clearer policies to ease Pakistan-India tension

Analysts say relations between the two states becoming less predictable


APP December 28, 2016
United States President-elect Donald Trump. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON: US President-elect Donald Trump should develop clearer US policies to ease tension between nuclear-armed neighbours Pakistan and India, senior analysts said at a discussion at the US Institute of Peace (USIP).

The discussion in a USIP forum followed the escalation in tension across the Line of Control that has further strained ties between the two countries. Two analysts, taking part in the discussion, said relations between Pakistan and India were becoming less predictable as nationalist sentiments in India heightened political pressure there to escalate its response to clashes in Indian-occupied Kashmir.

"The fear of direct military conflict is real," Shamila Chaudhary, a former Pakistan director at the US National Security Council said, referring to attacks in Indian-held valley which New Delhi has blamed on Islamabad. Chaudhary said that every new administration wanted to solve the India-Pakistan standoff, a possibility that Trump and his Vice President-elect Mike Pence had indicated in recent months.

She was, however, of the opinion that it was not going to work, and added that more modest goals for the upcoming administration could be to consolidate or better coordinate US policy on India and Pakistan. Chaudhary suggested strengthening private diplomacy to build communication between the countries and limiting public statements which "don't work well in the region".

Speaking on ties between the US and Pakistan, Sameer Lalwani, deputy director of the South Asia Program at the Stimson Center, said that although the US had slashed aid to Pakistan, Washington still needed a working relationship with Pakistani authorities. The US needed Pakistani cooperation on intelligence, homeland security and counter-terrorism, the fight against Islamic State (IS) extremists, and stabilising Afghanistan, he said.

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The new administration needs to consider what problems the next India-Pakistan crisis could present to US policymakers, Toby Dalton, the co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said. He said it was critical that the US maintained intelligence ties with each country, apart from any other issues in its relations with them.

Sadanand Dhume, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute said that the US effort to forge tighter bonds with India while ignoring India's concerns about Pakistan was "a circle that can no longer be squared". Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi ascended to power in 2014 in part by running as a nationalist who would not be pushed around by Pakistan, Dhume said.

Anything that erodes Modi's image as a strong leader will become a political liability as India moves toward its next parliamentary elections in 2019, and so "India is becoming much more hawkish in its public opinion and its politics," he said. The India-Pakistan conflict has never been a priority in US foreign policy and it's unlikely to become one for the Trump administration, the analysts agreed.

Despite the United States' "vital interest in averting any escalation of nuclear threats between the two countries, it has done little long-term planning to prevent it and generally engages the issue only when crises arise", Chaudary said.

The experts suggested that the next administration would do well to bring new focus and coherence to US policy. The solutions for conflicts dividing India and Pakistan are well known, Moeed Yusuf, USIP's associate vice president for Asia programs said. Acknowledging the difficulties of bringing India and Pakistan to any agreement, he asked, "Is it really impossible? At the end of the day, normalisation solves everyone's problems," he added.

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