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Trump triggers new ‘Great Game’ in South Asia BY ADIL NAJAM

Trump triggers new ‘Great Game’ in South Asia

 

 

Speaking at Fort Myer last week, the president promised that “American strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia will change dramatically.” In Afghanistan, it is unlikely to. In South Asia, it already has – in deep but disturbing ways and mostly because of what President Donald Trump had to say about Pakistan.

Here’s how the stakes, consequences and options for each of the major players in South Asia have been transformed.

The speech left Pakistan hurt and angry.

The country’s foreign minister, Khawaja Asif, was livid at President Trump’s threatening tone and words, claiming that his country’s “sacrifices” as an American coalition partner were “disregarded and disrespected.” Pakistan’s National Security Council (NSC), which includes both the prime minister and the military chief, echoed the consensus in Pakistan that both Washington, D.C. and Kabul are bent on “scapegoating” Pakistan for their own failures.

 

Remarkably for Pakistan, President Trump seems to have united a deeply divided country. Government, opposition, military and civil society are all equally offended. All point out how Pakistan itself has had to spend many times more of its own resources in fighting America’s war than whatever America may have provided: 70,000 casualties, 17,000 Pakistanis killed; a nation living in constant fear of Taliban terrorism; an economy devastated to the tune of over $100 billion.

Of course, American allegations that Taliban encampments exist in Pakistan are not new. But President Trump has refused to recognize that Pakistan’s struggles to eliminate them are no less challenging than Afghanistan’s or America’s efforts within Afghanistan. This has been seen as particularly disingenuous.

 

 

 

 

Given the timing, tone and especially the fawning overtures toward India, Pakistanis read President Trump’s speech as the newest episode of abandonment from the nation’s longest but most fickle ally.

Privately, Pakistan and the United States have each long considered the other to be equally unreliable. With President Trump signaling that America will now look elsewhere, Pakistan feels compelled to do the same. Both China and Russia have been quick to exploit the chasm, advancing their own deep interests not only in Afghanistan but in greater South Asia.

Even before Pakistan had made any response to President Trump’s speech, the Chinese, already wildly popular in Pakistan for investing heavily in its infrastructure, responded with an official statement calling Pakistan an “all-weather friend” and thanking it for its “great sacrifices” in the fight against terrorism.

Not to miss the opportunity, Russia’s presidential envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, proclaimed that Pakistan is “a key regional player,” the pressurizing of whom could “result in negative consequences for Afghanistan.”

In Pakistan, such statements and the speed with which they came have been viewed as evidence that Pakistan does have choices, i.e., it may be time for Pakistan to move out of the U.S. orbit and seek deeper alliances elsewhere. Pakistan’s foreign minister, for example, immediately postponed his planned visit to Washington. This is not simply to register displeasure, but to gain time to visit other capitals and explore alternative options.

India’s initial reaction, not surprisingly, was to gloat. Its narrative about Pakistan was thoroughly embraced in President Trump’s speech. However, this is a gift horse they are likely to examine more carefully. Being anointed America’s sheriff in South Asia brings with it a new stress to their already-strained relations with China.

It is inevitable for tension to grow between these two Asian behemoths, but India would clearly have preferred to plan out the timing and terms of the escalation itself.

President Trump’s message to India that it “makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States, and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan,” is likely to be met with nothing more than a polite smile from New Delhi. There is certainly no likely relieffor the American taxpayer in how much they have to pay to keep dysfunctional governments in Kabul in place even while 40 percent of Afghanistan remains under Taliban control.

But the biggest consequence of President Trump’s South Asia strategy is that it gives India a license to elevate a new proxy conflict with Pakistan in Afghanistan. Pakistan is clearly terrified of being trapped in a pincer squeeze on its eastern and western borders by its arch nemesis, India.

But Afghanistan, as recent statements from its former president, Hamid Karzai, suggest, can also not be thrilled by the prospect of yet another major power becoming entrenched in yet another “Great Game.”

Therein lies what is truly new and frightening in Donald Trump’s South Asia strategy.

For the entirety of the last seven decades – including throughout the Cold War, when India was firmly ensconced as a Soviet ally – the American goal in South Asia was, above all, to maintain regional stability. The aim was to avoid and to actively resist tensions in a region that was a powder keg well before India decided to go rogue with nuclear weapons, and Pakistan followed suit. As of last week, the new American policy is to pit neighbor against neighbor in South Asia.

One day, one hopes, someone will explain to President Trump, like Chinese President Xi Jinping did about why North Korea is “complicated,” why the India-Pakistan relationship really is as fraught with danger as it is.

Meanwhile, an abdication of America’s traditional stabilizing role in South Asia has been announced. Afghanistan that will get kicked around the most, as five of the six largest militaries in the world (China, India, the United States, Russia and Pakistan), all nuclear, jockey for advantage in whatever the new South Asian balance of alliances might become.

Let us all hope that the unimaginable remains unimagined.

Adil Najam is the founding dean of the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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Frontline state mortified at anti-terror summit by Salim Bokhari

Frontline state mortified at anti-terror summit

 

Humiliating the royal way | Ready-to-speak Nawaz not invited to address Riyadh moot | Trump names India among terror victim states, skips Pakistan | Iran bashed at forum

Frontline state mortified at anti-terror summit

RIYADH – Something has gone terribly wrong. This is the only way one can describe what happened to Pakistani delegation headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the Arab-Islamic-American summit held in the Saudi capital on Sunday.

The popular sentiment among the majority of Pakistani media delegation was that of a total humiliation of the sole Muslim nuclear power because not only there was no mention of Islamabad’s role against global terrorism but also the prime minister of the ‘frontline state’ was denied the opportunity to put forth its point of view.

Representatives of some minion states were allowed to speak that have not even tasted a shred of the kind of carnage faced by Pakistan, which however has turned the tide on terror in an unprecedented episode of courage, commitment and sacrifice that no other participant of the 35-state summit could even think of offering for world peace.

 

 

“The nations of Europe have also endured unspeakable horror. So too have the nations of Africa and even South America. India, Russia, China and Australia have been victims,” US President Donald Trump said in his keynote address, skipping the name of Pakistan – which lost over 70,000 civilians and more than 6,000 of its valiant soldiers to terrorism.

The mention of India among the list of terror victims was more pinching as it comes at a time Islamabad, through spy-terrorist Kalbhushan Jadhav’s case at International Court of Justice, is trying to convince the world of New Delhi’s role in fanning terror.

Terming India a victim of terrorism was also a deeply painful insult to innocent, unarmed Kashmiris who are fighting for their just cause of liberating their land from the oppressive India and facing worst kind of state terrorism at the hands of its armed forces.

Joining Muslim Nato fires back!

An even bigger setback for Pakistan’s foreign policy came when both Trump and Saudi King Salman – the most influential pair – turned the summit into a launching pad against Iran, the leader of the Shia Muslims that shares a 909 km long border with Pakistan, whose around 20 percent population is Shia by faith.

Accusing Saudi Arabia’s regional rival of fuelling “the fires of sectarian conflict and terror”, Trump called for isolating Tehran. “Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate it,” Trump said.

Saudi King Salman in his speech called Iran “the spearhead of global terrorism” and called for containing it. “We did not know terrorism and extremism until the [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini revolution reared its head [in Iran],” he said.

Pakistan has joined the 34-nation KSA-led military alliance ‘against terrorism’ and the government allowed its celebrated ex-army chief Raheel Sharif to head alliance’s rapid deployment forces – despite fierce opposition at home.

The move was opposed by almost all opposition parties over fears that the so-called ‘Muslim NATO’ could eventually turn out to be an alliance of Sunni Gulf states against Shia Iran and bring Islamabad into the vortex of transnational Sunni-Shia conflict.

The cold-shoulder attitude of King Salman to Pakistani delegation was particularly hurtful. Some diplomats were of the view that since Pakistan refused to send its troops to fight against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen, it might have annoyed the Saudi monarchy.

Though both Trump and King Salman also called for defeating Sunni terrorist state-cum-organistaion of Islamic State (ISIS), it was clear that Iran and its allies are going to be the main target of this new battle in the name of terrorism.

Interestingly, it is none other than the US and the KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] which are thought to be the creators of Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Trump goes Bush

Trump, who would spit venom against Muslims during his election campaign and who is now living up to his words by pursuing anti-Muslim policies, urged Muslim leaders to take a stand against religious extremism, describing this struggle as a “battle between good and evil” – a catchphrase made popular by former US Present George W Bush.

He also conveniently overlooked the state terrorism perpetuated by the successive Israeli regimes, particularly that of Benjamin Netanyaho – who had told the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that he would continue to butcher and slaughter Palestinian men, women and children.

Mr Trump also avoided criticising his Saudi hosts and assembled leaders of Arab and Islamic nations on any human rights violations in their countries – a clear break from the practice of his predecessor Barack Obama.

Prime Embarrassment!

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, earlier on his special flight, spent nearly two and a half hours consulting his comrades-in-arms preparing and finalising his speech that he thought he would deliver at the summit.

Also, the members of the media delegation were given to understand that after checking against delivery, the speech would be released to accompanying journalists. But now, the prime minister or his staff will carry that speech folder back home.

Later, neither Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz nor any other responsible person was available to explain why the prime minister was denied the opportunity to speak to the participants of the summit, for which a Saudi minister only last week visited Islamabad and extended the invitation to PM Sharif.

It was also quite strange that though there was almost no possibility of a Sharif-Trump meeting, the Foreign Office, back at home, kept hyping it up. In the end, let alone the meeting, we were even not invited to let the others know how we think about the fight against terrorism.

Pakistan was essentially the most important Muslim country after Saudi Arabia in terms of leadership of the Muslim Ummah and the leading state in terms of fight against global terrorism, but the treatment meted out to us here in Riyadh made us feel like we are pitiful losers.

A painful day for journalists

The moment the Saudi monarch closed the summit the media persons started receiving frantic calls from their offices back home in Pakistan with questions like: what has happened, how it happened, why it happened?

One of the frequently asked questions was: “Do we have a Foreign Office? But no one had any reasonable answer to this query.

This is understood that after the summit was over the prime minister must have remained engaged in remaining activities, including proceeding to the Moatamarat for groundbreaking ceremony of World Centre against Extremisms.

All said and done, for Pakistani journalists it was a dreadful day – the one full of disappointment and hurt. In the evening, every single one of us was returning to his hotel room from the Conference Centre with a heavy heart.

Trump slams Iran in first foreign speech

Agencies add: US President Donald Trump in his speech to dozens of leaders of Muslim countries in Saudi Arabia, lashed out at Iran and softened his tone on Islam by rejecting the idea of a battle between religions.

“This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it. This is a battle between good and evil,” Trump said in his 30-minute speech.

The address was the centrepiece of Trump’s visit to Riyadh, which started on Saturday with the announcement of billions of dollars in trade deals with Saudi Arabia and continued Sunday with the speech and a series of meetings with Arab leaders.

The visit is the first leg of an eight-day foreign tour – Trump’s first as president – that will take him on Monday to Israel and then the Palestinian territories and on to Europe.

‘Drive them out!’

His speech sought to rally Islamic leaders behind a renewed push to tackle extremism, with Trump urging religious leaders to condemn violence and governments of Muslim countries to make further efforts to end support for extremists.

“Of course, there is still much work to be done. That means honestly confronting the crisis of Islamic extremism and the Islamists and Islamic terror of all kinds.”

He focused on the financing of extremist groups, and announced plans for a US-Gulf agreement to “prevent the financing of terrorism called the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center, co-chaired by the United States and Saudi Arabia”.

Advance excerpts of the speech had Trump using the term “Islamist terrorism” – an apparent softening in tone – but the president veered off-script in the delivered speech.

Trump appealed to Muslim nations to ensure that “terrorists find no sanctuary on their soil”, and announced an agreement with Gulf states to combat financing for extremists.

“A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and drive out the extremists. Drive them out! Drive them out of your places of worship! Drive them out of your communities!” Trump said.

The president made no mention of human rights during his visit, and in the speech insisted: “We are not here to lecture — we are not here to tell other people how to live.”

In another move sure to please his hosts, Trump accused Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Shia Iran of fuelling “the fires of sectarian conflict and terror”.

“Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate it,” Trump said.

He said, “The [Iran] government that gives terrorists safe harbour, financial backing… The regime that is responsible for so much instability in that region. I am speaking of course of Iran. From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms and trains terrorists, militias and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region… It is a government that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing the destruction of Israel, death to America, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this very room.”

Trump held Iran responsible for training armed groups in the wars in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, but drew a clear distinction between the “richness and culture” of the Iranian people and the government in Tehran.

Some 35 heads of state and government from Muslim-majority countries were in Riyadh for the Arab Islamic American Summit, mainly from Sunni states friendly to Saudi Arabia.

The United States is leading a coalition battling IS, a Sunni Muslim militant organisation, in Syria and Iraq, and Trump said he would hold a press conference “in about two weeks” to give an update on how the US is faring in the battle.

On refugees, he praised Lebanon and Turkey for accommodating Syrians fleeing war at home: “This region should not be a place from which refugees leave but to which newcomers flock.”

Trump said Arab and Muslim countries had suffered the deadliest toll of radicalism.

He asked: “Behind every pair of eyes is a soul that yearns for justice and years for peace. Today billions of faces are now looking at us, waiting for us to act on the great questions of our time. Will we be indifferent in the face of evil?”

Trump concluded with the “promise that America will not seek to impose our way of life on others but to outstretch our hands.”

Trump’s speech was touted as a major event – along the lines of a landmark address to the Islamic world by Obama in Cairo in 2009.

It was especially sensitive given tensions sparked by the Trump administration’s attempted travel ban targeting several Muslim-majority nations and his previous remarks, including a 2015 statement that “Islam hates us”.

Reacting to Trump’s address, the Council on American Islamic Relations said “one speech cannot outweigh years of anti-Muslim rhetoric”, and called for “concrete actions… to reset relations with the Muslim world”.

US-KSA deals

Trump was welcomed warmly in Saudi Arabia, where he and first lady Melania Trump were given an extravagant reception by the Saudi royal family.

The first day saw the announcement of hundreds of billions of dollars in trade deals, welcome news for Trump as he faces mounting troubles at home.

Among the agreements was an arms deal worth almost $110 billion with Saudi Arabia, described as the largest in US history.

Trump proudly declared the first day of his visit “tremendous”.

On Sunday he held a series of meetings with other Arab leaders, including Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and Bahrain’s King Hamad.

Warm talks with ‘friend’ Sisi

The meeting with Sisi — an avowed fan of the president — was especially warm, and Trump said he would “absolutely” be putting Egypt on his list of countries to visit “very soon”.

Trump referred to Sisi as “my friend” and Sisi said the US president was “capable of doing the impossible”, to which Trump responded: “I agree!”

Trump even complimented Sisi on his footwear, saying: “Love your shoes. Boy, those shoes. Man…”

Trump, who travels on Monday to Israel and the Palestinian territories before visiting the Vatican, Brussels and Italy for NATO and G7 meetings, is taking his first steps on the world stage as he faces increasing scandal at home.

The past week has seen a string of major developments in Trump’s domestic woes, including the announcement that James Comey, the former FBI chief fired by Trump, has agreed to testify publicly about Russian interference in the US elections.

Reports have also emerged that Trump called Comey “a nut job” and that the FBI has identified a senior White House official as a “significant person of interest” in its probe of Russian meddling.

Iran sees US ‘milking’ Saudis of $480b

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on Sunday that the United States may be “milking” Saudi Arabia of $480 billion after Washington signed major deals with Tehran’s Gulf rival.

“Iran – fresh from real elections – attacked by @POTUS in that bastion of democracy & moderation. Foreign Policy or simply milking KSA of $480B?” Zarif tweeted.

It was the first Iranian reaction to US President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, and comes after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s re-election to a second term.

Earlier, Zarif advised President Trump to discuss how to avoid another September 11 attack with the Saudi hosts of his first official visit abroad, Zarif wrote in an editorial published on Sunday.

“(Trump) must enter into dialogue with them about ways to prevent terrorists and takfiris from continuing to fuel the fire in the region and repeating the likes of the September 11 incident by their sponsors in Western countries,” Zarif wrote for the website of the London-based Al Araby Al-Jadeed news network.

This news was published in The Nation newspaper. Read complete newspaper of 22-May-2017 here.

 
 

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