SOURCE: Hindustan Times
The security of the larger subcontinent as defined by the United States secretary of defence, Jim Mattis, is a perspective that should give India some comfort. The question is whether his testimony before the US Senate will necessarily translate into policy on the ground in the coming years.
The most important element of his testimony was his unequivocal belief that any US military withdrawal from Afghanistan would be inimical to his country’s security. Kabul must, at the very least, negotiate from a position of strength if it has to come to terms with the Taliban. This will come as music to India’s ears.
New Delhi has long argued that any intemperate US withdrawal from Afghanistan would lead to a Taliban takeover — and potentially convert Afghanistan back into a terrorist hub as the Pakistani military had done in the past.
Mr Mattis had a more mixed message regarding Pakistan. While speaking of the double-faced policies of Islamabad — pretending to fight Islamicist terror even while secretly promoting and shielding some of its worst practitioners — he said he was prepared to give Pakistan one last chance. Indian eyes will roll at this, having experienced similar US admissions of Pakistani perfidy followed by a statement of limited forgiveness.
Pakistan is a past expert at exploiting such loopholes and it remains to be seen if the Trump administration will be wise enough to understand when it is being taken for a well-worn ride. He also spoke of how much better Pakistan would be economically if it focussed on trade and investment ties with India. This is an argument grounded in sound reason and economics but wholly irrelevant to the geopolitical drivers of the India-Pakistan relationship.
Mr Mattis also threw in support for India’s official argument against endorsing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) by noting such projects needed to be sensitive to sovereignty issues. But New Delhi still awaits a more comprehensive statement by Washington accepting the larger Indian concern that the Belt Road Initiative, of which the CPEC is the flagship, is being used by Beijing to financially suborn smaller countries both economically and politically.
Nonetheless, this and similar statements by senior members of the Trump administration are reassuring in that they provide clarity to what remains an otherwise incoherent US strategic vision of the world. They also seem refreshingly politically incorrect in publicly stating what US officials would often admit about Pakistan in private. All that remains is for the words to be converted into deeds.