WASHINGTON. US President-elect Donald Trump should develop clearer US policies to ease strains between the nuclear-armed neighbors Pakistan and India, senior analysts said at a discussion at the US Institute of Peace.
The discussion in a USIP forum followed an escalation across the Line of
Control that has further strained ties between the two countries. Two analysts, taking part in the discussion, stated that relations between India and Pakistan were becoming less predictable as nationalist sentiments in India heighten political pressure there to escalate its response to clashes in the disputed territory of Kashmir.
“The fear of direct military conflict is real,” Shamila Chaudhary,
a former Pakistan director at the U.S. National Security Council said, referring to the attacks in the Indian-held valley, which India has blamed on Pakistan.
Chaudhary said that every new administration wants to solve the
India-Pakistan standoff, a possibility that Mr. Trump and his Vice President-elect Mike Pence have indicated in recent months.
She was, however, of the opinion that it was not going to work, and
added that more modest goals for the upcoming administration could be to consolidate or better coordinate U.S. policy making on India and Pakistan.
Chaudhary suggested strengthening private diplomacy to build
communication between the countries and limiting public statements, which “don’t work well in the region.”
Speaking on the ties between the US and Pakistan, Sameer Lalwani,
deputy director of the South Asia Program at the Stimson Center, said that although the United States has slashed aid to Pakistan, Washington still needs a working relationship with Pakistani authorities, the USIP statement on the discussion said.
The U.S. needs Pakistani cooperation on intelligence, homeland security
and counter-terrorism, the fight against Islamic State (ISIS) extremists, and stabilizing Afghanistan, he said.
The new administration needs to consider what problems the next
India-Pakistan crisis could present to U.S. policymakers, Toby Dalton, the co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said. He said it was critical that the United States maintain intelligence ties with each country, apart from any other issues in its relations with them.
Sadanand Dhume, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute said that the U.S. effort to forge tighter bonds with India while ignoring India’s concerns about Pakistan is “a circle that can no longer be squared”.
Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi won election in 2014 in part by
running as a nationalist who would not be pushed around by Pakistan, Dhume said.
Anything that erodes Modi’s image as a strong leader will become a
political liability as India moves toward its next parliamentary elections in 2019, and so “India is becoming much more hawkish in its public opinion and its politics,” he said.
The India-Pakistan conflict has never been a priority in U.S. foreign
policy and it’s unlikely to become one for the Trump administration, the analysts agreed.
Despite the United States “vital interest in averting any escalation
of nuclear threats between the two countries, it has done little long-term planning to prevent it and generally engages the issue only when crises arise”, Chaudary said.
The India-Pakistan experts suggested that the next administration would do well to bring new focus and coherence to U.S. policy.
The solutions for conflicts dividing India and Pakistan are well known,
Moeed Yusuf, USIP’s associate vice president for Asia programs said.
Acknowledging the difficulties of bringing India and Pakistan to any
agreement, he asked, “Is it really impossible? At the end of the day, normalization solves everyone’s problems,” he added.