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Tillerson hints at Air strikes in Pakistan; will the US find targeting Pakistan lucrative?


News Analysis |

Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson has hinted at possible air strikes inside Pakistan as part of the Trump administration strategy to compel Pakistan to stop its alleged support to terrorists. Tillerson alluded to such a possibility while he rolled out a list of options available to the administration to back up Trump’s tough line against Pakistan.

“We are going to attack terrorists wherever they live, and we have put people on notice that if you are harboring or providing safe haven to terrorists, be warned, be forewarned,” said Tillerson. President Trump while announcing the new South Asia policy had chastised Pakistan for allegedly harboring and supporting terrorists. He lamented Pakistan’s so-called duplicitous role of taking money from the US while bolstering the very terrorists who are fighting the US.

The US finds itself amidst deep trouble in Afghanistan and with regional realignments taking place, its leverage over Pakistan is fast-diminishing

While Trump did not spell out as to how Pakistan would be deterred and compelled, pundits and officials point out to the fact that the US has little leverage over Pakistan. However Tillerson said that Pakistan could be inflicted with pain. “All those things… are on the table for discussion, if, in fact, they are unwilling to change their posture or change their approach to how they’re dealing with the numerous terrorist organizations that find safe haven in Pakistan,” he added.

Read more: Will Trump’s ‘new’ Afghan strategy be successful?

Tillerson said that Pakistan must change its approach and that the US will help them in their anti-terror efforts. He said: “We are going to be conditioning our support for Pakistan and our relationship with them on them delivering results in this area. We have some leverage in terms of aid, their status as a non-NATO alliance partner — all of that can be put on the table.”

Hence, any attack on Pakistan will exert public pressure on the military to retaliate, which it may not cave into owing to various logical reasons. This would help the US and India to discredit the Army, causing a compelling effect

India while welcoming US’ request for its role in stabilizing Afghanistan, showed enthusiasm over Trump’s references to terrorist safe havens in Pakistan. Delhi wants the US to inflict compelling punishments on Pakistan by hitting alleged targets inside Pakistan. Tillerson’s comments will hence go down well with Delhi.

Why are Air strikes on the table?

Though a tad early to say the US may be enticed to go for strikes inside Pakistan. The US time and again violates Pakistani airspace and carry-out drone strikes. Twice they have gone a step further in 2011. One was the Abbottabad Operation which took out Osama Bin Laden and the other was when NATO and US forces attacked a Pakistani check post in Salala, martyring 26 Pakistani army personnel.

Read more: President Trump’s speech and our reactions

All these events and the Raymond Davis saga for that matter fuelled anti-American sentiments. However, it harmed the repute of the armed forces. Common Pakistan venerates, trust and laud the armed forces of the country. More or less all agree on the fact that the security forces are competent enough to thwart the very many challenges that Pakistan is facing.

A day before Trump gave his strategy speech, the ISPR briefed a large section of the media on the various counter-terrorism efforts of the armed forces

As the US in tandem with India and Afghanistan tries to portray the Pakistani military as complicit in terrorism, the military is dishing out details of its efforts against the menace of terrorism. In the war of narratives, the military is actively engaged in disseminating its unprecedented achievements.

The COAS General Qamar Bajwa has repeatedly implored his US counterparts to recognize the meritorious contributions of Pakistan in the war on terror. A day before Trump gave his strategy speech, the ISPR briefed a large section of the media on the various counter-terrorism efforts of the armed forces. Besides, Indian subversive role in Afghanistan and the Kashmir issue was also discussed in detail.

Read more: The winners and losers in Trump’s Afghan Strategy – 1

One was the Abbottabad Operation which took out Osama Bin Laden and the other was when Nato and US forces attacked a Pakistani check post in Salala, martyring 26 Pakistani army personnel

The US wants to compel Pakistan to do what it allegedly doesn’t want to do. The non-military options are unlikely to have a telling impact on Pakistan. The US may find it tenable to target the repute of the Army and drive a wedge between the people and the armed forces.

Airstrikes or offensive operations can be responded to by the Pakistan military but it will run the risk of deadly escalation. Hence, any attack on Pakistan will exert public pressure on the military to retaliate, which it may not cave into owing to various logical reasons. This would help the US and India to discredit the Army, causing a compelling effect.

The US finds itself amidst deep trouble in Afghanistan and with regional realignments taking place, its leverage over Pakistan is fast-diminishing.