The Corner

Politics & Policy

Trump’s South Asia Strategy

This passage from President Trump’s speech on Afghanistan deserves more attention:

In the past, Pakistan has been a valued partner. Our militaries have worked together against common enemies. The Pakistani people have suffered greatly from terrorism and extremism. We recognize those contributions and those sacrifices.

But 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. But that will have to change, and that will change immediately. No partnership can survive a country’s harboring of militants and terrorists who target U.S. service members and officials. It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order, and to peace.

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. 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 (emphasis added).

Trump’s toughness on Pakistan drew a lot of comment after the speech, with most observers welcoming it. Everyone understands that developing a closer relationship with India, whatever other goods it would accomplish, is a way to put pressure on Pakistan. Agree or disagree with the policy, it’s an intelligible part of a South Asia strategy. Using the threat of action against India on trade, meanwhile, is also defensible as a way of pressuring India to help us in Afghanistan.

Doing both of these things at the same time, however, will be challenging. It means we have to threaten simultaneously to be warmer to India (to pressure Pakistan) and cooler to India (to pressure India). That’s going to require some pretty deft diplomacy from the Trump administration.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.