News Desk |
On Thursday, US President Donald Trump confidently stated that the ongoing scuffle between Pakistan and India is finally coming to an end. Speaking at a press conference during his second summit with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, Trump stated that “We have been involved in trying to help them stop and we have some reasonably decent news.”
Trump said that the conflict between Pakistan and India has been ongoing for “decades and decades” and there is “a lot of dislike” between the two countries. He went onto explain that the USA has been mediating to promote “some organization and some peace” across the region.
Earlier on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement following India’s violation of the LoC and the Balakot incident, terming India’s violations of international borders as “counter-terrorism actions. He stated that he had spoken to the Foreign Ministers of India and Pakistan, and had urged FM Qureshi of “the urgency of Pakistan taking meaningful action against terrorist groups operation on its soil”. Pompeo stressed that he had encouraged both Foreign Ministers to “prioritize direct communication and avoid further military activity”.
The statement also voiced concerns about “ongoing Pakistani support for terrorist groups, including Jaish-e-Mohammad.” It went onto urge Pakistani leaders to take “demonstrable action against JeM and other terrorist infrastructure on Pakistan’s soil”.
After Pakistan’s swift response of taking down another IAF aircraft and capturing an IAF pilot who had, once again, ventured into Pakistani territory, voices for de-escalation rang louder from the USA. On 28th February, Senators Mark R. Warner of Virginia and John Cornyn of Texas, the co-chairs of the bipartisan Senate India Caucus, released a statement to the press, condemning the “horrific attack on Indian security forces by a known terrorist group based in Pakistan”. Their statement went on to accuse Pakistan of harboring terrorists, “For too long Pakistan has harbored terrorist groups that have threatened stability in Asia and around the world.”
Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, also issued a statement on 28th February to voice concerns over the escalating Pak-India hostility. The statement also voiced concerns about “ongoing Pakistani support for terrorist groups, including Jaish-e-Mohammad.” It went onto urge Pakistani leaders to take “demonstrable action against JeM and other terrorist infrastructure on Pakistan’s soil”.
USA: A Crisis Manager or Crisis or Indian Ally?
News reports circulated by the ANI network amongst other sources reveal that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had a telephonic conversation with Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, during which Doval was assured that “The US is supportive of India’s decision to act against the JeM terror camp in Pakistan”.
Speaking to Dr. Moeed Pirzada on his prime time show Live with Moeed Pirzada, Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director of Asia Program and South Asia senior associate at The Wilson Centre commented on Washington’s involvement in de-escalation of the ongoing Pak-India conflict.
“We hear President Trump suggesting that the US was involved in efforts to diffuse tensions between India and Pakistan and that makes perfect sense, given that the US has made it quite clear that it has absolutely no interest in tensions between these two countries escalating into something much more serious”. Kugelman stated that he was “not surprised” at US efforts to provide mediation on both sides, and highlighted that the US has played a successful role of a crisis manager throughout history, citing President Clinton’s mediation during the Kargil conflict.
In response to Dr. Pirzada’s question of US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan’s involvement in de-escalation and Pentagon’s lead over the state department in the ongoing Pak-India conflict, Kugelman stated, “There have also been reports in recent days that a top US military official had been talking to a top Pakistani military officials, which strengthens the view that the US Defence Departments plays a role.”
Kugelman stated that once India had retaliated, Washington was not prepared for either India or Pakistan to escalate the tension, and was seeking to play an active role in diffusing tensions.
“I would argue that given how important it is for Washington to try to find a way to help diffuse this crisis, you would have an inter-agency effort, including not only the Pentagon but also the State Department and the White House-a full-fledged effort to try to work with both sides to bring down the tensions.”
Dr. Moeed Pirzada raised the question of Mike Pompeo’s depiction of Indian incursions in Balakot, KP province of Pakistan as “India’s counter-terror measures” instead of condemning the invasive attack, hinting that there is a difference of opinion inside the US establishment and between Pompeo and Trump over the Afghan question and ongoing Pak-India crisis.
“My sense is that the US government across the board quietly supported India’s decision to stage that operation earlier this week in Pakistan. We heard of a telegraph by John Bolton, the US National Security Advisor, very soon after the attack in Kashmir, he apparently had a telephone call with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval, in which he essentially said that the US supports India’s right to self-defense. In that regard, when India retaliated in the way that it did, I imagine that there is a pretty strong amount of quiet support from the US government. However, Washington did not want the situation to escalate beyond that”.
Kugelman stated that once India had retaliated, Washington was not prepared for either India or Pakistan to escalate the tension, and was seeking to play an active role in diffusing tensions. In response to Pirzada’s question of the US reaction, if Pakistan had not acted robustly in downing two Indian planes, Kugelman stated that the “US officials were worried of escalation risk even before Pakistan engaged in its retaliatory actions.”
“From the time that India decided to stage that operation (Balakot), alarm bells were going off in many parts of official Washington. There were quite a few in Washington that did not expect Pakistan to respond in the way it did, and the fact that Pakistan did respond only made things more concerning for US officials.” Kugelman stated that Pakistan’s retaliatory actions really “propelled them to step in” and the fear that India may attempt to stage a retaliatory strike in response.
Pakistan Surprises USA with its Robust Retaliatory Response
In response to Dr. Pirzada’s comment on how US officials were gauging Pakistan’s inability to respond, Kugelman stated, “Given that the details are still unclear on what exactly India did in its operation, but according to the Indian side, and I think the US side believes that India staged an operation in KP but not in Pakistan-Administered Kashmir. Clearly, that is a provocative act, and would have expected Pakistan to respond to it in some way.”
He cited the examples of the “notorious Indian surgical strikes of 2016” and India media reports of a large scale operation while the truth turned out to be “much more modest than projected by the (Indian) media”.
Kugelman went on to say, “I think that there is a view amongst some, I don’t want to generalize, within the analytical community in the US that Pakistan would not have responded simply because it would have concluded that it did not really have that many conventional military options to launch a response given that its conventional forces are not as strong as those of India. I think there may have been an under-appreciation of the capacities and the flexibility that Pakistan does have in terms of launching a limited but nonetheless a notable retaliatory strike”.
In response to Dr. Pirzada’s question on the Indian military and air force press briefing, where India failed to provide any evidence of the site they attacked in their claimed attack, a development that ought to surprising for Indian supporters in Washington, Kugelman responded, “If you look at the precedent here, I do think there is a tendency for there to be some embellishments if not outright exaggerations on the Indian side as to what exactly transpired”. He cited the examples of the “notorious Indian surgical strikes of 2016” and India media reports of a large scale operation while the truth turned out to be “much more modest than projected by the (Indian) media”.
“With this incident, there certainly has been very credible data, and on social media, some specialists who had access to satellite imagery indicate that there didn’t appear to be all that much destruction in the areas that were targeted by India, in terms of these reports that 350 terrorists have been killed.”
Mina Jahangir with additional input by News Desk.