US NSA targets Pakistan, focus on scaling up counter-terror cooperation with India

us-nsa-indiaUS National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster is known for his plain-speak. And he did precisely that by sending out a tough message to Pakistan for its sponsorship of cross-border terror, ahead of his visit to New Delhi during which he focused on expanding counter-terror and defence cooperation with India.

In New Delhi, Lieutenant General McMaster held a series of meetings with the top leadership, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, and Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. “NSA McMaster emphasized the importance of the U.S.-India strategic relationship and reaffirmed India’s designation as a Major Defense Partner,” said a statement from the US embassy. “The two sides discussed a range of bilateral and regional issues, including their shared interest in increasing defense and counterterrorism cooperation.”

In Kabul, just before he reached Islamabad, McMaster had some blunt talk for Pakistan. “As all of us have hoped for many, many years, we have hoped that Pakistani leaders will understand that it is in their interest to go after (militant) groups less selectively than they have in the past and the best way to pursue their interest in Afghanistan and elsewhere is through diplomacy and not through the use of proxies that engage in violence,” Mr McMaster told an Afghan news channel in Kabul.

What is equally significant is that he nudged Pakistan to abandon the path of selectively targeting terrorists, a blunt message which found resonance in both New Delhi.  The US Embassy in Pakistan said as much in a statement that Mr McMaster “stressed the need to confront terrorism in all its forms.”

In Islamabad, Mr McMaster held talks with Pakistan’s civilian and military top brass, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, Special Adviser to the Prime Minister Sartaj Aziz, and his Pakistani counterpart Nasser Khan Janjua, on a range of bilateral and regional issues. A statement from Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office said he “reiterated his firm conviction on sustained dialogue and meaningful engagement as the only way forward to resolve all outstanding issues between India and Pakistan, including the Kashmir dispute” and that “he welcomed President Trump’s willingness to help India and Pakistan resolve their differences particularly on Kashmir.” While US President Donald Trump has at times spoken about helping India and Pakistan to live in peace, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley had recently said the president could play a pro-active role between the two countries. New Delhi, has, however, consistently rejected American or any other third party mediation in matters involving India and Pakistan.

The tone and tenor of Mr McMaster’s tough-talking in Kabul against Pakistan was a tad different from the previous Barack Obama administration’s path of strategic patience with Pakistan. He underlined that Washington’s response to Pakistan’s duplicity on terrorism will be more action-oriented, with less restraint. It is not without reason that his visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan came within days of the US using its most lethal non-nuclear bomb, the Mother of All Bombs”, in Nangarhar province of eastern Afghanistan that left nearly 100 suspected terrorists, including an Indian member of Islamic State, dead.

McMaster’s was the first visit by a top member of President Donald Trump’s administration to the region and his trip to Kabul and Islamabad was watched for clues as to Washington’s future course of action in the region. Pakistan has since long been benefitting from American economic aid running into billions of dollars even while targeting some terror groups and looking away from activities of others outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed that target India. The American NSA’s team to Afghanistan and Pakistan included Lisa Curtis, the National Security Council’s senior director for South Asia, who recently co-authored a paper calling on the US to stop treating Pakistan as an ally and instead to “focus on diplomatically isolating” it if it continues to support terror groups.

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