Trump’s South Asia Policy Options post Syria Attack – Saad Marwat

American missile strike on Syrian base in the outskirts of Homs has been welcomed by key Arab states opposing Bashar al Assad. The strike marked the biggest foreign policy decision that Trump had to make since coming into power. The attack was also United States’ first ever direct intervention in Syrian civil war which Donald Trump’s predecessor Barrack Obama avoided.  Trump administration’s official claimed that the attack had destroyed 20 percent of Syrian Arab Air force (SAA).  Trump’s predecessor Barrack Obama avoided direct military action against Syrian regime which generated anger among Gulf nations, primarily Saudi Arabia.

The attack has started a new rift between Washington and Moscow. Russia’s deputy United Nations envoy in a meeting in Security Council was quoted saying, “we strongly condemn the illegitimate actions by the US. The consequences of this for regional and international stability could be extremely serious.” According to reports Russian forces were stationed in the base at the time of attack.

On the Korean front, Washington has said that it will work with China in order to deal with North Korea. China is the only major ally of North Korea in the region. Pyongyang’s aggressive posture has alarmed its rivals Japan, United States and South Korea. In order to tackle North Korean missiles, United States has deployed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti Ballistic missile system in South Korea while Japan has deployed patriot missiles. China has shown serious reservations on deployment of THAAD system in its periphery. Beijing believes that the system can undermine her nuclear capability and thus altering the balance of power in the region.

On the Afghan front, the United States dropped its largest non nuclear bomb on Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) compound in Nangarhar province of Afghanistan.  The decision of was taken by top US commander in Afghanistan.  According to analysts, Trump has empowered his field commanders to act on their own in the light of any new challenge in their respective areas.  Many international observers condemned the strike and believed that the main aim of the strike was to test their new weapon.  This allegation was made because ISIL‘s presence in Afghanistan is very limited and the real threat is Taliban, which is increasing its influence rapidly.

It seems that Trump administration’s Af-Pak policy is shaping into a decade old rhetoric of violence as the only option to fight the Afghan war. Trump’s national security advisor, General Mcmaster, during his visit to Pakistan and Afghanistan said “As all of us have hoped for many years, we have hoped that Pakistani leaders will understand that it is in their interest to go after these groups less selectively than they have in the past and the best way to pursue their interests in Afghanistan and elsewhere is through diplomacy not through the use of proxies that engage in violence,”. The statement suggests that rather than solving the issue at hand, Trump’s deputies in Afghanistan are again shifting the whole blame on Pakistan.

Pakistani army chief during his meeting with Mcmaster, rejected the allegations. Pakistan is itself a victim of terrorism and had lost more troops than the combine casualties of Northern Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Afghanistan. Furthermore, the bulk of Pakistan army is engaged in counter terrorism operations inside its own territory. Trumps administration needs to acknowledge Pakistan’s contributions in global war against terrorism.

The new administration in Washington is yet to announce its policy on South Asia with suggestions that a new Afghan policy might be in the offing. But strategists believe that Pakistan should not expect any major change in United States policy as the core of it will remain the same as Trump’s predecessors. United States will stress on Pakistan to counter all terrorist groups without discrimination, will maintain presence in Afghanistan and will further strengthen her ties with India.

Though, a policy change is visible in Middle East and the Pacific Ocean. The attack on Syrian Arab Army airbase indicates that Trump will come hard on Russia and Iran. Furthermore, United States has hinted a military option against North Korea. Overall Washington is going to continue Obama administration’s policy towards South Asia. The String of Pearls policy may also continue in which alliance with India is necessary for the containment of China. On the contrary, Pakistan’s role in this whole scenario makes it all more delicate to weigh its foreign policy options.

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