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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2706

Modi, Trump And Pakistan

By Allabaksh - Syndicate Features

In his forthcoming meeting with US President Donald Trump in Washington, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to discuss a wide variety of subjects that have a bearing on bilateral relations. The India-Pakistan relations also appear certain to be discussed.

In this context, what need to be taken up more specifically is Pakistan’s efforts to sabotage India-Afghanistan ties. It has been regularly reported that the US continues to believe that the Afghan imbroglio cannot be solved without Pakistan’s help. But should that help will come at the expense of India? This question the US should address squarely since Pakistan is not hiding it caveat. India’s development assistance to Afghanistan has created tremendous goodwill for India while the ISI-backed terror factories have made Pakistan among the least liked countries.

It is an absurd lie to say, as Pakistan does, that India friendly Afghanistan will be anti-Pakistan. Another absurdity is GHQ Shura’s insistence that Washington must factor in the interests of Islamabad first and foremost if the US expects any ‘help’ from Pakistan. This is a blackmail tactic. India must expose both lies.

The US no doubt knows well that Pakistan has unleashed its proxies, the Jihadi-terrorist combine, on both India and Afghanistan. What has not received sufficient attention in the US is the constant Pakistani efforts to block direct trade via the land route between India and Afghanistan. Pakistan shows little respect for international norms and laws by refusing to let Indian goods transported overland. It amounts to denying the rights of a landlocked country (Afghanistan).

India has two alternatives to get round this problem. The first one is to transfer goods up to an Iranian port (Chabahar) by sea and then by land to Afghanistan —and beyond. The unfinished work at the Iranian port has held up progress on this alternative. If the US re-imposes sanctions on Iran, the future of Chabahar, close to the Chinese-built and operated Pakistani port of Gwadar, may well be doomed.

India would do well to anticipate this problem of deterioration in Washington-Tehran ties, and talk about it with President Donald Trump. He may perhaps understands that if development of Chabahar is chocked it will please the Chinese who see themselves as the hegemon in South Asia.

The second option for India is to establish a cargo air corridor with Afghanistan, overflying Pakistan. The air corridor has just been opened and indications are that it will do well even though the present volume of bilateral trade is not very large. The air route is certainly much costlier than the land or the sea route but what is the alternative in the given circumstances.

Pakistan can at any time act as the spoiler by refusing permission to overfly its territory. If it leads to an international opprobrium, Pakistan will not mind. A country that has been condemned as the epicentre of terror can be immune to all other kinds of international condemnation.

Yet Pakistan could wilt if an international rebuke is accompanied by inflicting ‘pain’ the effect of which will be a further blow to its fragile economy. It could take the shape of a kind of ‘sanction’. President Trump is in a position to do that because the general mood in the US is one of extreme annoyance and anger with Pakistan which has regularly milked it in the name of fighting terror.

There is no reason why Pakistan should not be made to pay for its refusal to allow India-Afghanistan trade pass through its territory. It gets ridiculous when the Pakistanis express keenness to rope in India in projects like a gas pipeline from Iran or Turkmenistan and the so-called China Pakistan Economic Corridor. How does Pakistan assume that India will be happy to spend billions of dollars by participating in the two projects while Pakistan retains the veto power to sabotage anything that benefits in India?

Pakistan has been able to get away with its obduracy in blocking India-Afghanistan overland goods transportation because it has not felt any pressure to act like a responsible country to either of its neighbours on the east and the west. The US was indifferent to the Pakistani intransigence on this matter when its relations with Pakistan were good, if not excellent.

It goes without saying that China, Pakistan’s new suitor, will not ask Islamabad to undo its anti-India policies. But the US still has a modicum of influence over Pakistan, a country always standing with a begging bowl. In a little over 10 years, the US has pumped in over $30 billion dollar worth of aid in cash and armaments to the ‘non-Nato ally’ without achieving any of the stated purposes like weaning away Pakistan from its love for religious extremism and adventurism.

The US may have reduced its aid to Pakistan in recent months but it has not been cut off. What is more, Pakistan is still desperate to receive whatever crumbs the US might throw its way.

India has to impress upon the Americans that by opening the land trade route for Indian goods to Afghanistan, Pakistan benefits immensely. It makes money by charging India (and Afghanistan) the transit fee. It will also generate some hope for a thaw in India-Pakistan relations once the attractions of trade with India become more visible to the Pakistanis.

As the Daily Times of Lahore said editorially (on June 21, 2017) trade ties are key to Af-Pak peace as well. Pakistan must realise that it cannot use strategic depth to influence Afghanistan’s policies. Lasting Af-Pak peace, which is the US priority Number One in this region, will only have a real chance if the two countries on either side of Durand Line share the costs and vow to protect one another’s interests. Pragmatism is the need of the hour.

- Asian Tribune -

Modi, Trump And Pakistan
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