BY: AISHWARYA GUPTA
Following President Donald Trump’s tweets condemning Pakistan’s treatment of the US as an ally, the Trump Administration announced that it would be suspending an undisclosed amount of security aid to Pakistan. The aid in question is said to total over $255 million, which would only be reversed once Pakistan takes action against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network. The US’ decision only affects military aid as of right now, which will include equipment and security related funds, not civilian aid. However, this move could prove to be ineffective and only serve to further exacerbate tensions in the South Asia region by pushing Pakistan closer to China and escalating tensions with India.
The growing distance between the US and Pakistan has been characteristic of the Trump administration as it seeks to ramp up engagement in Afghanistan to contain the growing threat in the region. Earlier this year, the US had notified Congress that it was putting the $255 million in aid on hold until Islamabad made an active effort to counter internal terror networks working in Afghanistan. In the latter half of 2017, the US made its position on Pakistan abundantly clear calling for the country to take a definitive stance on terrorist organizations within its border signaling the US’ shift away from Pakistan. Even with the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif amidst corruptioncharges, the US did not react. Had it been any other US ally that was undergoing a regime change, the US government would have been far more alarmed. Last week, a suspected US drone killed a leader of the Haqqani network in Pakistan’s Kurram region that lies on the Afghanistan and Pakistan border reaffirming the US’ belief that Pakistan is harboring terrorist organizations. In August 2017, President Trump even went as far as calling for Pakistan’s regional rival, India, to become more involved in Afghanistan.
India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been enjoying newfound support of the United States following Trump’s election, an alliance that has caused much unease in Islamabad. India has been a major trading partner with Afghanistan and its biggest regional donor going as far as providing military training for the Afghan army. Should India’s involvement in Afghanistan increase any further, it could further deteriorate the already fragile détente between the two nations triggering fears of strategic encirclement in Pakistan. But India’s more direct involvement in Afghanistan may see China step in to fill the vacuum left by the United States in Pakistan. With China already quartered within Pakistan’s borders, Trump’s move could push an already agitated Pakistan closer to China. Pakistan, which is key to China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, recently received over $500 million in grants to build infrastructure in Gwadar, Pakistan, fairly close to the Iran-Pakistan border. Unsurprisingly, Pakistan’s growing proximity to China has been a point of concern for India as well due to China and India’s longstanding border disputes. The Doklam Standoff in 2017 between India and China marked the culmination of the growing militarization in disputed territories and a sign that India is willing to compete with China in a military capacity as well. India and China are both competing to expand their regional influence, where Pakistan could serve as a catalyst. Therefore, if China’s involvement in Pakistan increased, especially closer to the Indian border as it has in the past, India will resort to exercising its military capabilities.
Ultimately, Pakistan’s alliance with the United States is what has kept China at bay from increasing its military presence within the country. The issue of security aid to Pakistan could effectively destabilize the region, where only a semblance of peace exists right now. Whether or not Pakistan is doing enough to counter terrorism within its borders remains a contended issue. Scholars and security experts have long held that Pakistan covertly and overtly supports terrorist outfits in the region. But leveraging security aid as opposed to using diplomatic tactics could send the wrong message to Pakistan and further destabilize the region, where an aggressive India and China are already to competing to expand their influence.
Aishwarya Gupta is an Analyst at Morgan Stanley. She has previously worked with UN Women, Advanced Energy Group, UN Security Council’s Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate and various other organizations.
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