Trump’s South Asia Strategy Leaves Billions of People Confused About the Future

(ANTIMEDIA)  — In his first prime time address to the nation on Monday night, Donald Trump laid out the United States’ new strategy for combating extremism in South and Central Asia. In addition to reversing his stance on the war in Afghanistan, the president criticized Pakistan for harboring terrorists and stressed the need for stronger relations with India.

“My original instinct was to pull out — and, historically, I like following my instincts,” Trump said of the Afghan war. “But all my life I’ve heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office; in other words, when you’re president of the United States.”

As a private citizen, Trump had long voiced his opinion that the U.S. should pull out of Afghanistan, where the military has been operating for 16 years. But the president stated Monday that his advisers have changed his perspective and that “the consequences of a rapid exit” from the country “are both predictable and unacceptable.”

Trump had harsh words for Afghanistan’s neighbor, Pakistan, which the president accused of giving “safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror.”  Instead of “housing the very terrorists that we are fighting” — those driven out of the country by the U.S. military — Trump said Pakistan would do well to join the war effort:

“Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists.”

But Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center, explained to CNN why this would be a problem for Pakistan, as it views support for certain militant groups as a check against its principal rival India.

“Pakistan has ironclad immutable strategic interests which dictate maintaining ties to groups like the Taliban,” Kugelman said. “It sees them as useful tools to keep Pakistan’s enemy, India, at bay in Afghanistan.”

Trump said Monday that India is a key ally and that its ongoing cooperation with the U.S. will be a major component of its regional policy going forward:

“Another critical part of the South Asia strategy for America is to further develop its strategic partnership with India — the world’s largest democracy and a key security and economic partner of the United States.”

Continuing, the president acknowledged India’s efforts in Afghanistan but said that because it benefits greatly from trade with the United States, the country should do more:

“We appreciate India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan, but India makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States, and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development.  We are committed to pursuing our shared objectives for peace and security in South Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region.”

Notably absent from Trump’s speech was any mention of regional superpower China, which for months has been exchanging tough words with the United States over trade issues and how to approach the North Korean nuclear situation.

China, however, was vocal in its defense of ally Pakistan following the U.S. president’s Monday night comments. From Reuters on Tuesday:

“Asked about Trump’s speech, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Pakistan was on the front line in the struggle against terrorism and had made ‘great sacrifices’ and ‘important contributions’ in the fight.”

Speaking at a press briefing in Beijing, Hua said China believes “that the international community should fully recognize Pakistan’s anti-terrorism” and urged the U.S. and Pakistan should combine efforts with “mutual respect” as a foundation:

“We are happy to see Pakistan and the United States carry out anti-terror cooperation on the basis of mutual respect, and work together for security and stability in the region and world.”

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