Trump takes hard line on Pakistan for supporting terrorist groups

In his speech outlining US strategy in Afghanistan and the wider region, President Donald Trump called out Pakistan for harboring and supporting terrorist groups that target and kill US citizens, and said there would be a radical change in policy toward the South Asian nation.

Trump’s public acknowledgement of Pakistan’s ties to terrorist groups, including the Taliban, was unprecedented for a US Commander in Chief. While lower level US officials, such as Chairman of the Joint Chief of State Admiral Mullen, have previously pointed out Pakistan’s support of the Taliban and its powerful subgroup, the Haqqani Network, Presidents Bush and Obama have taken a softer line in the hopes that Pakistan would moderate its support for terrorist organizations in the region.

Trump said the US will work to increase ties with India, Pakistan’s neighbor and greatest enemy, as part of the “change in approach in how to deal with Pakistan.”

Trump noted “20 US-designated foreign terrorist organizations” are currently active in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and said Pakistan “often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror.”

“We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond,” Trump said.

While acknowledging that the US and Pakistan “have worked together against common enemies” and that the “Pakistani people have suffered greatly from terrorism and extremism,” Trump said Pakistan has repaid the US by supporting terrorist groups that kill Americans.

We recognize those contributions and those sacrifices [of Pakistanis who have been killed in terrorist attack], but Pakistan has also sheltered the same organizations that try every single day to kill our people. We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars, at the same time they are housing the same terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change. And that will change immediately. No partnership can survive a country’s harboring of militants and terrorists who target US service members and officials. It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order, and to peace.

In what must have sent shockwaves all the way to Islamabad and Rawalpindi – the home of Pakistan’s military and intelligence service – Trump followed up his harsh words for Pakistan with a call for greater American cooperation with India.

Trump said the US will seek to “develop its strategic partnership with India” and described the country as “a key security and economic harbor of the United States.” He called for India to play a greater role in Afghanistan “especially in the area of economic assistance and development.”

A US shift from Pakistan to India as a key ally in South Asia is sure to both enrage as well as frighten Pakistani elites. But an attempt to change Pakistan’s behavior and end its support for jihadist groups will be exceedingly difficult and may test the resolve of the US to see just how serious it is.

Previous US administrations have incentivized the Pakistani government to continue its policies that have allowed the Taliban, al Qaeda, and other jihadist groups to survive and thrive in the region. Instead of making Pakistan pay for its policy, the US has transferred billions of dollars to Pakistan in a failed attempt to influence its behavior. Pakistan will likely have to pay a heavy price to stop supporting jihadists and end its policy of relying on the Taliban for “strategic depth.”

Since its founding in 1947, Pakistan has been unable to achieve victory on conventional battlefields against India, which has remained an enemy since the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947 in which Pakistan attempted to gain control of the Indian states of Jammu and Kashmir.

To compensate for this, Pakistan implemented its own version of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. Pakistan has supported groups in Afghanistan in order to deny India influence in its backyard, as well as to allow the nation to serve as a fallback in case of an Indian invasion. Over time, Pakistan began raising and supporting terrorist groups to wage a guerrilla war against Indian forces in the state.

Pakistan capitalized on the chaos in post-Soviet Afghanistan and hunted for a group that would serve its purposes. With the rise of Mullah Omar’s Taliban faction in the early 1990s, Pakistan military and intelligence officers assigned to implement strategic depth saw the perfect partner: a powerful jihadist political movement that was gaining popularity throughout the country and was capable of sustaining military advances. Pakistan provided military and financial support to Omar’s faction, which successfully established the Islamic Emirate of the Taliban in 1996 and controlled upwards of 90 percent of the country until the US invasion in 2001.

In addition to securing a friendly government in Afghanistan, Pakistan has used the country as both a training and a recruiting ground for a host of jihadist groups that fight in Kashmir.

A US-Indian alliance could provide India with advanced weaponry that could give it a qualitative edge over Pakistan’s military. Additionally, closer US and Indian ties could further erode US and Pakistani ties, which has benefited Pakistan during previous wars with India.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Paddy Singh says:

    Then China steps up aid to Pakistan? They still have not recognised Azahar being branded terrorist. Where will this end?

  • Birbal Dhar says:

    Donald Trump is right. Without Pakistani support of the Taliban, they would have been finished. You have to target the country that supplies arms to the Taliban. If you are ignoring the suppliers, the problems of Afghanistan will carry on forever, even if the government in Kabul weren’t corrupt. This is the first time that a leader has mentioned the problem. Previous presidents never bothered talking about it. At least Donald Trump has mentioned it.

  • It’s damn well about time.

  • Stu Skinner says:

    Thanks Bill, for the background.

    I was encouraged that President Trump was able to clarify a way forward in Afghanistan. His point about dropping the “micromanaging” from Washington while allowing “warfighters” (his word) to engage the enemy aggressively. I also liked the concept of dropping the “nation building” that has been such a burden on the war effort.

    He made numerous other comments pointing to a military sea change in that area that I welcomed. I could not find a single statement in the speech that was not rational. Let’s pray this change in strategy can turn the corner and hasten the day when peace is established in Afghanistan.

  • Arjuna says:

    Trump would have done well to mention Zawahiri and Hamza Bin Laden as amongst the terrorists that The Paqistani ISI harbors, most likely in a Northern district of Karachi.

    China is key (and so is Russia). We need a tri-partite (four w India) alliance against Pakistan. They are proliferators to North Korea, and the Taliban and AQ’s best friends after the Saudis. Not to mention that they hid Bin Laden for years and got away with it and the one person who helped US is being tortured by them in custody.

    Trade Afridi for Aifia. It’s a matter of honor. She’s a nobody wannabe bio-weaponeer.

  • Dick Scott says:

    The one small detail never mentioned in the discussions about Pakistan is that the Pakistanis have never had control of the frontier areas, FATA, which are Pashtun. Neither did the Brits during the 100 years or so that they fought to try to control those people. Put pressure on the Pakistanis to try to control an area that they have never been able to control ever since they became the country of Pakistan? Dumb idea. Get some people in our government that know and understand what some of the real problems are! Cutting of military aid to Pakistan will accomplish nothing!

  • Moose says:

    “I could not find a single statement in the speech that was not rational.”

    And this is Trump’s most important quality. He doesn’t seem prone to the grotesque levels of idealism and emotionality that seem to define the Western liberal mindset.

  • Moose says:

    “Pakistan has supported groups in Afghanistan in order to deny India influence in its backyard, as well as to allow the nation to serve as a fallback in case of an Indian invasion.”

    The Pakistanis put a lot of effort into creating this myth that they need to control Afghanistan to fallback and counter-attack India. The first time I heard this I thought it was a joke. If India and Pakistan go to war and Pakistan loses Islamabad and Rawalpindi, then the war is effectively over and the Pakistani military establishment has been defeated. The idea that Pakistan can regroup in another country while in full retreat, something that not even the best trained militaries in the world can do, is a typical Pakistani fantasy.

    Pakistan is primarily concerned that a stable and prosperous Afghanistan can lay claim to its tribal areas. And as Bill stated, they launder their own terrorism through Afghanistan (like in the 1990s when Pakistani terror groups would hijack an Indian plane and end up in Kandahar). Afghanistan is also a nice release valve for the crazies being trained in Pakistani madrassas.

    Personally, I believe Pakistan’s ultimate goal is to annex Afghanistan. Their population is growing at an exponential rate and they don’t have the territory to handle it (not to mention Afghanistan’s vast resources). I believe the Taliban are the first phase in this Pakistani version of Lebensraum.

    Phase 1: Turn Afghanistan into a pariah state using proxy groups like the Taliban.
    Phase 2: Convince the international community that only Pakistan can deal with Afghanistan.
    Phase 3: Release millions of Punjabis into Afghanistan in a bloodbath that’ll make the partition with India look tame by comparison.
    Phase 4: Annex.

  • Nato21 says:

    The Taliban came from Pakistan and is supported by factions in the Pakistini army and intelligence services to this day. That’s not likely to change. Thinking that somehow India is willing to jump right into this mess and be the answer to the issue is foolish. India has been laughing at the U.S. for years as we chase the Taliban up and down and around the valleys in Afghanistan. There’s certainly no love lost between Pakistan and India given their history and current situation. They both have the Nukes though, and they have no interest in mutual destruction so the feud simmers along at a low level. India has no interest in bailing the U.S. out of the quagmire in Afghanistan. They could care less. The only people in Pakistan who care are getting the $$$$$ from the U.S. to fight the Taliban. We stop paying them end they won’t care. Sending 3900 more advisors is no plan.

  • Ahmad Arsala says:

    On the contrary, Pakistan has utilized the Tribal armies and areas from the start of its artificial inception both as militia armies in Kashmir and Afghanistan and an excuse for hiding its actions. All the terrorist organizations in Pakistan have been established in Punjab and FATA is just a recruiting area.

  • jski says:

    Yep have a drink of kool aid…

  • Moose says:

    The article doesn’t say anything about controlling Pakistan’s frontier areas. The issue here is Pakistan’s continuing support for the jihadist insurgency in Afghanistan.

  • irebukeu says:

    I would disagree Stu & moose. He seems to be a man who is governed by his emotions. He is always complaining about how he is treated. He is a victim, plays the victim and seems to let you down if you give him the benefit of the doubt. I’m not sure what his most important quality is. He claimed to have committed US forces to war with Assad because his wife was bothered by pictures of dead children.
    I notice a lot of this self claiming of victim status on the left and right. I find it very odd. Perhaps the product of a soft lifestyle
    Trump’s Afghan speech though much, much better than I expected, was all over the place and claimed no nation building while at the same time promising more of it. It too was very emotional. Victory itself will be an emotion. A fleeting one. It seems like we are going through the phase of 2002-2006 all over again as if we didn’t just do this.

  • irebukeu says:

    This speech was not what I expected and while I am against this manifestation of this war-“xenophons folly”, I do agree with the changes spoken to if the war is to be pressed at all. This doesn’t create a “Hail Mary” but the mix of things creates a “Jump ball”. Anything could happen.
    The speech Itself I found full of superfluous nonsense and inaccuracies but the Pakistan/India play is interesting. The tough talk is interesting. Pakistan will deny any knowledge of anything, again and again. will demand America end the drone program soon for real and will not know how Chinese made MANPADS wind up in the Khyber. This is a remake of a classic movie.
    Trump is not a “tuff guy”. This makes him unpredictable if provoked. This is the guy that really should scare pants off the Pakistanis. I have heard Indian lawmakers say “One more Mumbai and you will lose Baluchistan” Exact words. I believe what is meant is loss through insurrection supported by India. This would be a kick to the Iranian face at the same time. some of these groups have been supported by the west in the past for various purposes (Jundullah) so placing some calls should be easy.
    So the ball bounces over to Pakistan.

  • RanaSahib says:

    Best assessment written here of India-Pakistan situation over Afghanistan by Nato21.

    There is no way India will risk confrontation with Pakistan. The countries are ideological enemies but they are cultural allies, sharing the same language and popular culture.

    Besides, even if Pakistan loses Rawalpindi and Islamabad, and Lahore and Karachi too, the Indians have much more to lose: all of their industrial and financial centres would be wasted. Nobody wins with that scenario. Hence, nobody goes to war over Afghanistan.

  • James says:

    “Trade Afridi for Aifia. It’s a matter of honor. She’s a nobody wannabe bio-weaponeer.”

    I absolutely agree with you 100% on that one, Arjuna.

  • irebukeu says:

    What do you give China so that they abandon Pakistan? I just don’t see this happening.


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