American experts on South Asia say Washington has to do more than just verbally support India’s right to react following the Feb. 14, suicide bombing that killed 40 Indian paramilitary personnel and for which Jaish-e-Mohammed which operates from within Pakistan, claimed credit. The United States, they say, must publicly ratchet up its diplomatic offensive against Islamabad to a global scale.
Several South Asia experts believe Washington’s behind-the-scene efforts should be overt and public, not just in terms of rebuking Pakistan for allowing terrorists to flourish in its territory, but also take concrete steps to end any favors granted to Islamabad.
“The United States needs to escalate its diplomatic approach,” asserted Alyssa Ayres, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia. While “good” statements have been made by the State Department, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and National Security Advisor John Bolton, beyond that, not much is seen to be happening, Ayres said.
“Regardless of what may be happening quietly, it’s very important to have a public display,” Ayres said.
She suggested a series of incremental steps that would include suspending security assistance (a step already tried in small measure by previous administrations); blacklisting Pakistan in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF); revoking Pakistan’s Major Non-NATO Ally status; plus putting certain persons within the Pakistan Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), on a U.S. visa-ban list.
Interestingly, as this went to press Feb. 21, the United Nations Security Council unanimously, including a hitherto recalcitrant China, “condemned in the strongest terms the heinous and cowardly suicide bombing in Jammu and Kashmir, which resulted in over 40 Indian paramilitary forces dead and dozens wounded on February 14, 2019, for which Jaish-e-Mohammed has claimed responsibility.”
In so many words, the UNSC called on Pakistan without naming it, to hold perpetrators responsible and “in accordance with their obligations under international law and relevant Security Council resolutions, to cooperate actively with the Government of India and all other relevant authorities,” to do so.
This may bode well for the FATF taking a step initiated by France against Mazood Azhar, founder of Jaish-e-Mohammed, which would prevent Pakistan from being used as a pipeline for financing of terrorism. “That’s another area where Pakistan is clearly not upholding its obligations,” Ayres said.
But “going nuclear” by declaring Pakistan a “state sponsor of terrorism” would still not be advisable, Ayres says, particularly as U.S. negotiations with the Taliban were ongoing. She wants to see publicized high level visits to India and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling up counterparts and senior level officials visiting the region to raise visibility on the issue.
That “going nuclear” as Ayres calls it, is a step long prescribed by Professor Christine Fair of the Security Studies Program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Her latest work on Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, “In Their Own Words,” (Oxford) was recently released.
“United States should have declared Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism ages ago,” Fair told News India Times. “In addition, it should develop a process to identify specific individuals in Pakistan, whether in the military, government, or ordinary citizens, for whom we have intelligence that they are aiding organizations that the State Department has designated as terrorist.” That makes it extremely hard for those individuals to live anywhere but in their own country, and not able to connect with banks abroad, and “basically they become prisoners in their own country,” Fair said.
In addition, Fair asserted, there are declaratory policies under which, “The United States should make it clear that if Pakistan uses nuclear weapons, India will not be alone in responding,” a step which would prevent Islamabad from using its nuclear cache as a diplomatic weapon.
Fair’s views are akin to those of Lisa Curtis, former research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and now part of President Trumps National Security Council team as senior director for South and Central Asia. In a paper jointly written with former Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Hussain Haqqani titled “A New U.S. Approach to Pakistan,” Curtis and Haqqani called for threatening to designate Pakistan as a “state sponsor of terrorism.”
Others News India Times spoke to did not mention that option. Political Science Distinguished Professor Sumit Ganguly of Indiana University agrees that the “principled option (for the U.S.) is to maintain and sustain a diplomatic offensive,” against Pakistan.
“But that’s not going to happen,” because the administration lacks the expertise or concern for the region in the midst of domestic concerns over the Mueller investigation report on alleged Russian involvement in U.S. elections, and Trump’s fight over building a southern border wall with Mexico, Ganguly contended.
“I doubt India can rely on the U.S. at this point. Few officials are focused on South Asia and those who are, are focused on the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan,” Ganguly said. That gives Pakistan leeway for at least the next six months, he concluded.
At the same time, Islamabad’s importance is dwindling and President Trump has already cut off some assistance, Ganguly noted. “But Pakistan is going to leverage ties to Saudi Arabia and the Taliban,” Ganguly cautioned. Besides, talks with North Korea are at the top of Bolton and Trump’s agenda. “North Korea is far more pressing than 40 CRPF personnel killed in a place called Pulwama,” he said.
Ayres also bemoaned what she saw as the lack of enough expertise at the very top in the current administration to deal with South Asia. However, she praised the senior officials carrying the bag.
Walter Andersen, also a former State Department official who till recently headed the South Asia Program at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, feels both covert and overt action will or is already being taken by India. At the same time, he said, “Kashmir is a gift that keeps giving,” and is useful to leadership on both sides, he agreed.
Andersen pointed out however, how the international perception regarding Kashmir had been changing over the years – from an issue of self-determination, it was now one of terrorism.
“I don’t think the U.S. is in a position to make peace between India and Pakistan,” opined Ambassador Teresita Schaffer, former top State Department official, former director of the South Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and co-author of the 2016 publication, India at the High Table.
Washington has also never been very successful at pressuring Pakistan either, Schaffer noted. She also, like Ayres, recommended publicizing diplomatic overtures, akin to what then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had done back in June 2002 to prevent an armed conflict after India’s massive troop deployment on the border with Pakistan, following the Dec. 13, 2001 terror attack on the Indian Parliament followed by a series of smaller attacks by terrorists operating from Pakistan.
Armitage visited Pakistan and extracted a promise from then President Pervez Musharraf that he would “permanently” end cross-border terrorism. Armitage then conveyed this promise not just to his own government and to India but also to the global community.
However, that was then and this is now.
“So long as talks are going on with the Taliban, the U.S. will be constrained on taking action,” like Armitage did, Schaffer said.
At the same time, she said that if anyone could make a resolution to the India-Pakistan conflict happen at this time, it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “He has the strength to carry it through.” She did not expect the same vision of peace in the Subcontinent from Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Pakistani Army, she added.