Trump Criticizes Pakistan In Afghan Strategy Speech; Pakistan Reacts

Aug 22, 2017
Originally published on August 24, 2017 7:23 am
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Trump announced his strategy for Afghanistan last night. He's insisting on an honorable outcome, refusing to put a timetable on the U.S. engagement, giving more freedom to commanders on the ground and looking more broadly for a regional solution. Part of that involves further increasing pressure on Pakistan. That country has had a long history of destabilizing Afghanistan. It's a U.S. ally, but...

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Pakistan has also sheltered the same organizations that try every single day to kill our people. We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting.

CHANG: For more on this, we have NPR's Diaa Hadid, who's speaking to us from Islamabad in Pakistan. Hey, Diaa.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Hello.

CHANG: So what has the reaction been in Pakistan to Trump's remarks on Afghanistan?

HADID: It's been incredibly defensive. I've been speaking to former military officials all day, including the former head of Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency, the ISI. And they say it just felt like they were being berated without any acknowledgement of the steps they've actually taken to fight militancy. And that includes years of military operations in the mountainous border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan to uproot these groups. And Pakistan has also begun building a fence along that mountainous border to minimize as much as possible, they say, these cross-border attacks. I think there's a certain frustration here also that their own sacrifices haven't been acknowledged. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Pakistan in militant attacks. And so Pakistani officials say they've had their own imperatives to crack down on these groups.

CHANG: Well, what kind of incentive does Pakistan have to cooperate with us? I mean, Trump didn't exactly specify any particular consequences that would come if Pakistan did not cooperate.

HADID: It's really hard because what is key for Pakistan, as far as I can understand from speaking to officials and analysts, is that they want some sort of guarantee that Afghanistan won't fall into the orbit of India, which is Pakistan's biggest rival. And that's really what they're afraid of. And you could see it in Trump's speech, which praised India and urged India to take on a bigger role in Afghanistan. And that was really a dog whistle for Pakistanis here to actually double-down. And this is what analysts say will happen, that Pakistan might actually double down on their support in whatever form for these groups because they're worried that another neighbor will fall into the - will become loyal to their chief enemy.

CHANG: Does Pakistan have any leverage here?

HADID: It's pretty negative leverage. They can deny access to the Karachi Port, which is key for America to bring in supplies to Afghanistan.

CHANG: OK. So in the 30 seconds we have left, President Trump criticized Pakistan for the militant groups it has cultivated for decades, groups like the Taliban. Will Pakistanis abandon these groups? Can you see that happening?

HADID: It's really unlikely. They've deflected this pressure for 15 years. It's quite unlikely that they'll start heeding to do this now, especially when they feel so berated and so insulted.

CHANG: That's NPR's Diaa Hadid in Islamabad. Thank you very much, Diaa.

HADID: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.