WASHINGTON, June 20, (Agencies): President Donald Trump’s administration appears ready to harden its approach toward Pakistan to crack down on Pakistan-based militants launching attacks in neighboring Afghanistan, US officials tell Reuters.
Potential Trump administration responses being discussed include expanding US drone strikes, redirecting or withholding some aid to Pakistan and perhaps eventually downgrading Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Some US officials, however, are skeptical of the prospects for success, arguing that years of previous US efforts to curb Pakistan’s support for militant groups have failed, and that already strengthening US ties to India, Pakistan’s arch-enemy, undermine chances of a breakthrough with Islamabad.
US officials say they seek greater cooperation with Pakistan, not a rupture in ties, once the administration finishes a regional review of the strategy guiding the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan. Precise actions have yet to be decided.
The White House and Pentagon declined to comment on the review before its completion. Pakistan’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment. “The United States and Pakistan continue to partner on a range of national security issues,” Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump said. But the discussions alone suggest a shift toward a more assertive approach to address safe havens in Pakistan that have been blamed for in part helping turn Afghanistan’s war into an intractable confl ict. Experts on America’s longest war argue that militant safe havens in Pakistan have allowed Talebanlinked insurgents a place to plot deadly strikes in Afghanistan and regroup after ground offensives.
Although long mindful of Pakistan, the Trump administration in recent weeks has put more emphasis on the relationship with Islamabad in discussions as it hammers out a the regional strategy to be presented to Trump by mid-July, nearly six months after he took office, one official said. “We’ve never really fully articulated what our strategy towards Pakistan is. The strategy will more clearly say what we want from Pakistan specifically,” the US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Other US officials warn of divisions within the government about the right approach and question whether any mix of carrots and sticks can get Islamabad to change its behavior. At the end of the day, Washington needs a partner, even if an imperfect one, in nuclear-armed Pakistan, they say. The United States is again poised to deploy thousands more troops in Afghanistan, an acknowledgment that US-backed forces are not winning and Taleban militants are resurgent.