Thursday, January 18, 2018

President Trump has laid out a clear South Asia policy and his first 2018 “new day” tweet sent a strong message to Pakistan’s ruling elitist Army and intelligence agency that “no more” of the same old bag of tricks will work with his administration. He is demanding accountability on behalf of the American taxpayers and our soldiers serving in Afghanistan. The frustrations and inactions of the previous administration will not be carried forward any longer. It all stops now.

The pundits and experts scramble to identify an effective South Asia policy and consistently say that the change in present policy direction will push Pakistan towards China’s embrace, further growing its influence in Asia. Others say we have to motivate or reason with Pakistan to bring them to the negotiating table. Most opinions seem to advise the U.S. not to take a hardline stance against Pakistan.

But I strongly believe that the action taken by President Trump and his team will make Pakistan rethink its long-term strategy and realize the future of its nation is at stake. The seriousness of this U.S. administration in achieving and fulfilling its campaign promises have been demonstrated at the completion of his first year in office, and he is just getting started.

The following sanctions and actions may be hard to backtrack once the policy gets firm and the realization sinks in that Pakistan can never be a reliable partner any more. They will keep exporting terrorism and work against best interests of the USA and the stability of the region.

Firstly, Pakistan may lose its privileged status as a major non-NATO ally of the United States.

• The U.S. can call in vital World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Asian Development Bank loans to Pakistan. It will have direct impact on its economy besides the low collection of tax revenue and growing trade deficit. Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves are sharply down, forcing it to borrow in order to sustain and grow.

• Blacklist the Pakistani Army generals and ISI personal who have supported and incited Talibanization and other terrorist elements within Pakistan against American troops, its neighbor Afghanistan, and India. Their international bank accounts should be seized along with their interest in properties. Travel benefits to the U.S. should be immediately revoked for them and their families.

• Hold Congressional hearings and roundtables to scrutinize the areas of concern in South Asia policy. We will work with willing partners and build a strong coalition of countries vested in the advancement of the Indo-Pacific region.

• U.S. leadership can directly work in supporting the Mohajirs of Karachi, the Balochis of Baluchistan, and the Pashtuns, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus and other minority communities of Pakistan who have languished at the hands of Pakistani army and intelligence agency. We can support efforts to uplift these communities out of hopelessness and become eager equal participants in spreading peace and prosperity in the region, thus taking greater responsibility on addressing common threats.

• Lastly, United States may choose to support a similar motion passed in March 2017 by the United Kingdom’s Parliament in recognizing Gilgit-Baltistan, a legal and constitutional part of Jammu and Kashmir, making it an integral part of India. This will thwart Chinese ambition and investments into Pakistan to get access to the Indian Ocean. This will greatly help the marginalized Gilgit community, which has been fighting for over 70 years to preserve their identity, faith and language. To date, there has been no mention of Gilgit-Baltistan in the constitution of Pakistan.

There is no better time than now to get matters straight and have our real friends and allies raise their hands to stand strong with the United States in its fight against terrorism, its promotion of democratic values, and its standing for human rights in oppressed communities and faiths. America will always be a beacon of liberty and will never back down against rogue regimes and regional dictators. We will advance America’s positive influence with our peace through strength policy.

Puneet Ahluwalia is a consultant at The Livingston Group and served on Trump Asian Pacific Islanders Advisory Committee.

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