U.S. President Donald Trump’s new policy on Afghanistan, which pressures Pakistan to take more action against terrorists or face consequences, may be having an effect on Islamabad’s thinking, experts say.
“Trump’s statement triggered severe resistance from the Pakistani side and complaints of unfair treatment by the Americans,” said Malik Siraj, a political analyst in Washington.
“They have, nonetheless, alarmed the Pakistanis and cautioned them of the consequences that will come with continued presence of and support for extremists inside Pakistan,” Siraj said. “Hence, this has generated some serious internal calls to review Pakistan’s overall policy toward extremist groups.”
Trump’s position might have helped bring about a visit to Afghanistan by Pakistan’s military leader, and may have influenced Pakistan’s effort Thursday to free an American woman, her Canadian husband and their three children who were being held by the Haqqani network, which is considered the most lethal terror group in the region.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, during a recent visit to New York, called terrorist groups like the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba a liability and said officials need some time to get rid of them, which seemed to reflect a change in policy. Up to now, Pakistan has always denied any links with the Haqqanis or any other terror group, including the Afghan Taliban.
In addition, Pakistan’s Election Commission on Wednesday rejected the registration application of a newly established political party with alleged ties to a banned militant group.
The events have fostered some optimism about the U.S. relationship with Pakistan, which has been rocky at times during the 16-year war in Afghanistan. Pakistan still needs the United States on its side, as Pakistan fears India and wants continued financial aid and military materiel.
To avoid global isolation, Pakistan will need to modify its security policies and break any links with terror groups that pose a threat to regional security. Pakistan also has lost a huge number of civilians and troops to terrorism.
‘The right step’
“It’s a positive and the right step for all the right reasons,” said Mona Naseer, a columnist for Daily News Pakistan. “We need to stop playing a cat-and-mouse game on our Afghan policy, or otherwise we risk global isolation.”
“What prompted the [military chief’s] visit might be for different reasons, not only the Trump administration. I feel the other significant aspect is the Chinese government’s recent stance in the BRICS summit, too,” said Naseer, referring to the countries that make up the five major emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The BRICS nations called for patrons of the Pakistan-based militant groups to be held to account.
“What happens in the future, its effect or visible change, I’m not so sure about,” Naseer said.
Still, some experts don’t think Trump can pressure Pakistan to the point that it feels it must change.
“I do not think we should assume that U.S. pressure is the reason for [military chief General Qamar Javed] Bajwa’s visit. Pakistan has its own reasons for wanting to push for a detente with Kabul,” Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Wilson Center’s Asia program, told VOA.
“It will want to build trust to get Afghanistan to do more to cut down on cross-border terror,” Kugelman said. “But the big issue is the border itself. Pakistan has a strong interest in pushing for better cross-border management in order to move toward a legitimization of the Durand Line [the de facto border], which Afghanistan does not recognize.
“All this said, the U.S. wants better relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, so there is some reason to believe that the COAS’s [chief of army staff] trip was meant at least in part to appease growing U.S. impatience about Pakistan’s inaction on Afghanistan-focused terrorists on Pakistani soil.”
Rahimullah Yousufzai, a senior journalist based in Peshawar, agreed, telling VOA that even before Trump announced his Afghan policy, there were efforts between Pakistan and Afghanistan to improve relations and cooperate to wipe out terrorists on both sides of the border.