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Donald Trump

Dealmaker Trump’s surprising ultimatum for India in Afghanistan war strategy

Trump urges India to pony up more money for Afghanistan as he hints it could face commercial repercussions

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 August, 2017, 4:23pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 August, 2017, 10:24pm

Laying out his new Afghanistan war strategy, US President Donald Trump reissued old demands on neighbouring Pakistan to eliminate militant sanctuaries.

Less expected: an entirely new warning to close US partner India to provide more economic aid.

Much of Trump’s eagerly awaited address on turning around the nation’s longest war sounded familiar, not least the need for Pakistan to crack down on Taliban fighters hiding across Afghanistan’s borders. Washington has clamoured for greater Pakistani action for years.

More surprising was Trump’s blunt challenge to India and how he linked Afghanistan’s economic revitalisation to totally separate US-Indian trade matters.

“We appreciate India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan, but India makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States, and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development,” Trump said.

Trump: not nation building, killing terrorists

He didn’t elaborate, but the threat was clear, especially given Trump’s regular chafing over countries enjoying significant trade surpluses with the US.

Either India must pony up more money for what the Trump administration is calling its “regional approach” to Afghanistan, or it could face commercial repercussions.

The US deficit in goods and services with India last year was about US$30 billion. Trump also is reviewing a work visa programme heavily used by Indians.

Such trade threats might be new to India, but Trump has employed them similarly with China.

He has linked decisions on whether Beijing is a currency manipulator or a trade rules violator to how strongly its government pressures North Korea over its nuclear programme.

Trump’s remarks on trade could irk India, which also has suffered attacks by Pakistan-based militants and sees itself as a natural counterterrorism ally of the US.

And they come less than two months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi was warmly welcomed at the White House as a key strategic partner, with the two leaders exchanging hugs and declaring their shared interest in bringing stability to Afghanistan.

I imagine his cutting reference to the trade deficit with India will leave a bit of a sour taste in the mouth of New Delhi, which otherwise was likely quite content with Trump’s speech
Michael Kugelman

India has provided US$3 billion in aid to Afghanistan since 2001.

“I imagine his cutting reference to the trade deficit with India will leave a bit of a sour taste in the mouth of New Delhi, which otherwise was likely quite content with Trump’s speech,” said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Wilson Centre think tank.

However, India welcomed Trump’s plan to increase US engagement in Afghanistan, saying it shares Washington’s concerns about a safe haven for terrorists in its backyard.

“We welcome President Trump’s determination to enhance efforts to overcome the challenges facing Afghanistan and confronting issues of safe havens and other forms of cross-border support enjoyed by terrorists,” the Indian foreign ministry said in a statement.

“India shares these concerns and objectives.”

Indeed, Trump had far sharper words for Pakistan, India’s long-time rival. The two countries are locked in a decades-old dispute over the territory of Kashmir. Each has nuclear weapons.

Trump said it was time for Pakistan “to demonstrate its commitment to civilisation, order, and to peace” after benefiting from billions in US counterterrorism funds since the September 11, 2001, attacks.

“But Pakistan has also sheltered the same organisations that try every single day to kill our people,” Trump said. “We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting.”

Trump said America’s patience was over: “That will change immediately. No partnership can survive a country’s harbouring of militants and terrorists who target US service members and officials.”

China defended its ally Pakistan after Trump’s speech. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Pakistan was on the front line in the struggle against terrorism and had made “great sacrifices” and “important contributions” in the fight.

“We believe that the international community should fully recognise Pakistan’s anti-terrorism,” she told a daily news briefing.

“We are happy to see Pakistan and the United States carry out anti-terror cooperation on the basis of mutual respect, and work together for security and stability in the region and world.”

China and Pakistan consider each other “all-weather friends” and have close diplomatic, economic and security ties.

China has its own security concerns in the region, in particular any links between militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan and Islamist groups China blames for violence in its far western region of Xinjiang.

“We hope the relevant US policies can help promote the security, stability and development of Afghanistan and the region,” Hua said.

Additional reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse