Modi-Trump meeting: Will US walk the talk on Pakistan terror?

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India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with US President Donald Trump on June 26 is one of the most keenly awaited events in the diplomatic calendars of the world’s biggest democracy and its most powerful one. Compared to Mr Modi’s first US visit as prime minister in 2014, that included an impressive rally at Madison Square Garden with legions of cheering Indian-Americans in attendance, this time round, the White House meeting takes centre stage. This suggests that the Indian leader wants to focus more on establishing a firm foundation for New Delhi to work with the relatively new US administration.

During his two-day sojourn in the US, Mr Modi is expected to discuss a wide range of bilateral issues — from economic and defence cooperation to Indo-Pakistan relations and immigration. But of especial significance, perhaps, would be the talks on regional security and terrorism. Both Washington and New Delhi have their own reasons for ensuring continued stability in South and Central Asia. While the two sides have often reiterated the need to espouse a zero-tolerance stance towards terrorism, Mr Modi would do well to impress upon the US president that no discussion on counter-terrorism would be meaningful without considering the role of Pakistan in supporting terror groups.

A victim of cross-border terror for decades, India has time and again highlighted its concerns about terrorism emanating from Pakistan, which torment not only the subcontinent but the whole world. New Delhi has provided strong evidence at many international fora that the Pakistan’s military routinely uses terrorist proxy groups to carry out attacks inside India. The Modi-Trump meeting, therefore, assumes great importance considering that it will give out pointers as to how much Mr Trump is willing to accommodate India’s stance on Pakistan. The new US president is yet to define a clear strategy to deal with the threat of international terrorism and the worsening situation in Afghanistan.

Dealing with Pakistan terror
In the past, Mr Trump has promised a tough line on Islamabad, to the extent of even describing Pakistan as “one of the most dangerous regions in the world” and affirming that only India could counter that threat. There is, however, a big question mark hanging over these statements. It is no secret that Washington is fast running out of elbowroom in dealing with Islamabad – once a crucial ally in the war against terrorism — as the situation inside Pakistan looks anything but stable. Over the years, Washington has given Islamabad huge chunks of counter-terror assistance; one estimate puts the amount at nearly $30 billion since the September 11terror attacks. Yet, the cold fact is that terrorist organisations and the Afghan Taliban and other Islamist militants fighting the American-backed Kabul government, continue their operations with impunity in Pakistan.

The increasing US drone attacks inside Pakistan also indicates the growing frustration in Washington as it grapples with the dilemma that is Pakistan. While inaction is not an option for the US, military action against the terror modules runs the risk of further destabilizing Pakistan and, indeed, the whole region. In fact, recent US intelligence estimates reportedly suggest that elements of terror groups like the Al-Qaida are actually rebuilding havens in the so-called ‘Af-Pak region’, which probably forced the Trump Administration’s latest decision to pour more troops into the region.

Mr Modi’s visit to the US is an ideal opportunity to impress upon the Trump Administration the need for a sound strategy to deal with Pakistan’s dogged backing of terrorist forces. If Mr. Modi can do this, New Delhi would be in a better position to gauge Washington’s priorities for South Asia.

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