Trump spells out his South Asia policy

The US, under President Trump, implicitly recognised India's historic ties, stakes, and engagement in Afghanistan, while serving notice on Pakistan for fomenting terrorism in the region under nuclear cover.

Trump also reversed his earlier view calling for a total US withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying although his “original instinct was to pull out... a hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum for terrorists“, largely backed by Pakistan. “We will fight to win,“ he said at the army base of Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia, indicating that the US would expand its presence in Afghanistan but offering few specific details. In a significant recasting of US policy for south Asia after a review with his generals and strategists, Trump invited India to “help us more“ in Afghanistan.

US President Donald Trump, while seeking India's help in Afghanistan, warned Pakistan against harbouring terrorist outfits and sheltering terrorists and criminals. In fact, Pakistan got hammered, as Trump just stopped short of directly calling it a terrorist sponsor. “Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror. The threat is worse because Pakistan and India are two nuclear-armed states whose tense relations threaten to spiral into conflict,“ Trump said, outlining the latest US policy for the region. “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan's safe havens for terrorist organisations that pose a threat to the region and beyond,“ he added.

While lashing out at Pakistan, Trump highlighted India's role, including his future expectations from India. “We appreciate India's important contributions to stability in Afghanistan, but India makes billions of dollars in trade with the US, and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially for economic assistance and development,“ Trump said, suggesting greater Indian inputs into Afghanistan without direct mention of military contribution.

Significantly, Trump's speech also made no mention of Pakistan's patron China, which has been trying to make inroads into Afghanistan, or of Russia, Washington's erstwhile rival. Hours after Trump's speech, administration announced sanctions against Chinese and Russian entities and individuals for fostering North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile efforts, that were also supported by Pakistan.

While some US analysts said Trump's speech on Afghanistan and South Asia policy was muscular but vague on specific details, American officials indicated the President would direct some 4,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to add to 8,500 already in the region. The big question in New Delhi though is whether India will be asked to commit troops, something Trump addressed only indirectly.

Ahead of Trump's policy turnaround, US officials phoned leaders of Afghanistan, India (external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj), and Pakistan (foreign minister K M Asif) to brief them.

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