US leans heavily on Pakistan to secure its Afghan interests

New Delhi: The Donald Trump administration, which had made India the centrepiece of its South Asia policy two years ago, has started showing an increasing tilt towards Pakistan. Washington is determined to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by September with the US presidential elections coming up next year and is depending heavily on Islamabad to secure its interests in the war-ravaged nation.

President Trump said Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan could help broker a political settlement to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan and held out the possibility of restoring the $1.3-billion aid that he had cut last year.

This, to a large extent, is shaping Trump’s policy towards Indo-Pak ties as Islamabad said its support on Afghanistan would depend on lowering of tensions along the Line of Control (LoC), according to persons familiar with the dynamics of US-Pakistan ties. “I think Pakistan is going to help us out to extricate ourselves (from Afghanistan),” Trump said, with Khan sitting next to him, at the start of a White House meeting on Monday. This is a U-turn within a year. Trump had last year twitted that the Pakistanis “have given us nothing but lies and deceit” and “give safe haven” to terrorists.

Washington even backed New Delhi to get Masood Azhar declared a global terrorist after the Pulwama attacks and spearheaded efforts against Pakistan in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

In a counter tweet, Khan had said that Pakistan had suffered 75,000 casualties and lost $123 billion in the “US war on terror”, even though no Pakistani was involved in the September 11 attacks. He said the US only provided a “minuscule” $20 billion in aid.

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The US is now trying to iron out the creases with Pakistan. “We’ve made a lot of progress over the last couple of weeks,” Trump said on Monday. “A lot of things are happening for the United States, and I think a lot of great things are going to be happening for Pakistan under your leadership,” he said, looking at Khan.

There are reports that Khan appeared satisfied at the meeting with the fact that Trump had formally acknowledged the critical role Pakistan has played in advancing US interests in Afghanistan. Islamabad said Trump on Monday appreciated its contribution to the peace talks with Taliban and Khan reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to support the process. A larger role for Pakistan in Afghanistan could be a sticking point in the Indo-US bilateral ties.





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