Was it faux pax or a thought out strategy of Trump?

What American President Donald Trump told Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on his conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Kashmir could have two sides - deliberate or a faux pax. Known for not being on strong ground regarding foreign policy, Trump's remark is being described as a faux pax by some analysts.

By Sri Krishna


The American President Donald Trump telling Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wanted his (Trump) mediation to resolve vexed Kashmir issue which kicked up a storm in Indian Parliament does appear to be a deliberate ploy as part of a larger American strategy.

With Trump keen on withdrawing from Afghanistan before the U.S. Presidential election next year, he needs more than ever now Pakistani support and in this context Imran Khan’s statement that 30,000 to 40,000 terrorists are in Pakistan adds significance to what Trump said.

It appears that Trump lied about Prime Minister Modi asking for his help to “mediate” on Kashmir. Notwithstanding the categorical denials issued by India — by way of official statements, reiteration of the statement on the floor of Parliament by senior Union ministers Rajnath Singh and S Jaishankar — official records show that the Kashmir issue never came up for discussion between the US president and the Prime Minister of India during the G20 summit.

But, what is of even more significance is the Indian government deciding to send in more security forces into the valley which has aroused anger among the two key parties in Jammu and Kashmir, led by former Chief Ministers Mehbooba Mufti of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Dr Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference.

Clearly with U.S. appearing dead set on withdrawing from Afghanistan and having talks with Taliban, the situation in the region does appear to be heading for a major problem. For India, the withdrawal of American troops and possibility of Taliban gaining an upper hand in Afghanistan, the region could become a major flash point.

Within days of the Trump-Imran Khan meeting in Washington, the Pentagon notified the Congress of its decision to approve military sales worth US$ 125 million that would result in the monitoring of the F-16 fighter jets of Pakistan.

“The Pentagon notification does not reflect any resumption of military assistance to Pakistan. US$ 125 million is a paltry amount for aircraft and is only for 24×7 monitoring of the fighter jets,” sources told media in Washington.

This is under the Foreign Military Sale (FMS) which means Pakistan will pay for it. No US tax payers’ money is involved. And this money will essentially be used to pay salary to 60 US contractors to monitor the use of F-16 jets in Pakistan.

According to a state department official, there has been no change to the security assistance suspension announced by the president in January 2018.

Pakistan has used the F-16 fighter jets against India, the latest being in the aftermath of the Balakot airstrike inside Pakistan by India.

The Pentagon asserted that the proposed sale of this support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.

Meanwhile, U.S. sought to play down the remarks by Trump with the State Department’s acting assistant secretary Alice G Wells, the highest-ranking official on the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA), clarifying on Twitter that “while Kashmir is a bilateral issue for both parties to discuss, the Trump administration welcomes #Pakistan and #India sitting down and the United States stands ready to assist. – AGW”.

The moot question is, why did Trump, who has criticised Pakistan often in the past, do so? Why did he feel the need to put Khan in comfort? The answer lies partly in Trump’s myopic attitude towards foreign policy.

Ever since assuming office, Trump has shown a complete inability to grasp America’s long-term strategic concerns and also shown scant disregard for bracketing long-standing trade and immigration-related frictions from spilling over and affecting the close strategic partnerships.

One of the major factors that probably made Trump make this comment in the course of his talks with Khan was Afghanistan. But, by doing this, the American President has indeed further complicated the Afghan issue as for domestic advantage putting himself in a corner by talking big without understanding the complexity of an 18-year-old war. Right now, to placate his base ahead of the 2020 presidential campaign and secure an “exit deal” for American troops, Trump is solely dependent on Pakistan’s ability to deliver on its promises.

During his bilateral with Khan, he made it clear that he wants to get out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. The fact that he found it not fit to clarify that “getting out” doesn’t mean abandoning all the stated aims and objectives of the US in Afghanistan shows also how desperate he is to get his country out of the situation prevailing in Afghanistan.

The statement after the Trump-Khan meeting, “so we’re working with Pakistan and others to extricate ourselves. Nor do we want to be policemen, because basically we’re policemen right now. And we’re not supposed to be policemen. We’ve been there — we’ve been there for 19 years, in Afghanistan. It’s ridiculous. And I think Pakistan helps us with that because we don’t want to stay as policemen. But if we wanted to, we could win that war. I have a plan that would win that war in a very short period of time,” revealing what the intention of the American President is in the region.

It is almost opposite of what Trump had been saying about Pakistan when he pulled up Pakistan saying that country has taken “billions and billions of dollars” from the US, and “at the same time… housing the same terrorists that we are fighting.” He had also noted that “20 US-designated foreign terrorist organizations” were operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan and that the US “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.”

Till January 2018, Trump’s belligerence on Pakistan continued where he said the US has been taken in by Pakistan’s “lies” and “deceit” and paid billions of dollars while Pakistan subverted US interests in Afghanistan.

Towards the end of that year, with the “unwinnable” and “endless war” in Afghanistan showing no signs of abetting, Trump’s patience began to wear thin. In December 2018, Trump wrote to Imran seeking Pakistan’s “support and facilitation” to obtain a negotiated settlement in Afghan war, according to the Pakistani side that had first revealed the contents of the letter.

Trump had completed his turnaround by seeking a “great relationship” with Pakistan. While the Trump administration wants the Taliban to reach a settlement to ensure that the militia no longer harbours terrorists, stops terror attacks and works out a new “political arrangement” with the civilian government, the Taliban has so far proved to be a difficult and unreliable negotiator. They have increased violence against civilians and have refused to enter into any sort of power-sharing arrangement with the Ashraf Ghani government that has been kept out of the “peace process” and rendered helpless and powerless.

Trump feels that Pakistan can act as a facilitator with the Taliban, persuade them to end the cycle of violence and reach a settlement with the US. Trump’s special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has until September one to negotiate a deal.

This remark by Trump about Modi asking him to mediate on Kashmir would gladden Khan’s heart and give the Pakistan prime minister and his bosses in Rawalpindi the maneuverable space to cooperate with the US on Taliban is a small price to pay for a big “win”.

Another reason for Trump to make this statement is also to needle India on a sensitive issue and use this as a bargaining chip in the trade talks with India.

Whatever may be the reasons for Trump to make this remark on Kashmir, but surely knowing his penchant for kicking up a controversy and while hoping to secure Pakistan support in Afghanistan may also backfire on both U.S. and Pakistan.

With the Taliban being a tough nut to crack, would Pakistan whose intelligence agency ISI has been one of the prime parties encouraging Taliban be now able to the check this group. A Taliban which cannot be yet banked upon in Afghanistan, Trump’s words at face value is a tactic fraught with danger.