WASHINGTON: This week’s shake-up in the Trump White House could also lead to greater pressure on Pakistan to create a condition that allows the United States to win the war in Afghanistan, US experts say.

The experts, who spoke to Dawn, said that there’s still no talk in the US capital of severing ties with this key nation. But the new South Asian desk in the White House National Security will now be headed by a person who wants Pakistan to align its policies on terrorism and Afghanistan with those of the United States.

Lisa Curtis, a South Asian affairs’ expert from a Washington think-tank, will now be the senior director for South and Central Asia at the White House National Security Council.

“What this means for Pakistan at this early point is unclear, but ultimately, we can expect a Pakistan policy to emerge from the White House that emphasizes tough love but also cooperation along lines that directly serve US interests,” said Michael Kugelman, a senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Centre, Washington.

Read more: Trump expresses willingness to solve 'fantastic' Pakistan's problems

Marvin Weinbaum, the scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute, Washington, said that the Trump administration’s “general approach to Pakistan” will be decided by the new National Security Adviser Gen. H. R. McMaster because President Donald Trump “has no strong ideas of his own about the South Asian region.”

And since it was Gen McMaster who roped-in Ms Curtis, – instead of Brig. Gen. Robin Fontes whose appointment had already been announced – she will have a strong influence on future US policies towards South Asia.

“Generally speaking, judging on the paper she authored with (Pakistan’s former ambassador Husain Haqqani), she will expect more from Pakistan in dealing with terrorist groups seen as threatening US aims in Afghanistan,” said Mr Weinbaum.

The paper proposed tough measures against Pakistan to persuade it to cooperate with the United States.

Read more: War on terror: 'US asks Pakistan to do more yet fails to compensate'

To bring Ms Curtis, Gen McMaster overturned a decision by the now-ousted national security adviser, Ret Gen Michael Flynn, who had hired Ms Fontes for this job.

Ms Curtis is also considered a Russia hawk, like Brookings scholar Fiona Hill, another McMaster appointee, who joined the council as senior director for Europe and Russia.

As The Washington Post pointed out, Ms Curtis will be the only senior official in the Trump administration who deals with the South Asia region, which includes “the strategically important countries of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

There’s no permanent assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, no Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the State Department and no assistant secretary of defence for Asian and Pacific Affairs at the Pentagon.

“It’s rather disheartening I’m sure for the people in the region,” Shuja Nawaz, distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council, Washington, told the Post. “They are still fumbling for some direction as to how the Trump administration will deal with this region.”

Read more: An 'I love you' and a phone call: Breaking down the Nawaz-Trump 'bromance'

The report also noted that so far no leader from South Asia has visited the Trump White House and the new administration “has said very little about its plans for the region. It’s been particularly quiet about Afghanistan, where thousands of US troops are stationed.”

Earlier this week, President Trump unexpectedly removed his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, from the National Security Council, although he remains a close aide. Bloomberg news agency, which first broke the news, reported that Mr. Trump has also downgraded Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert.

Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2017



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