In his speech on Afghanistan, Monday evening, President Trump offered a sharp rebuke to a south Asian nation.
"Pakistan has also sheltered the same organizations that try every single day to kill our people. We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change. And that will change immediately."
Those words will be welcomed by many in the U.S. intelligence community. For years, career U.S. and allied intelligence officers (such as those of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service) have been infuriated by Pakistan's double-dealing. They lament that while Pakistan supports some counterterrorism operations, it continues to provide material support and specific operational direction to terrorist groups. The culprit isn't simply Pakistan's notorious Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), but many politicians who support the terrorists.
Trump now must address this challenge. I believe he has four ways of doing so.
First off, Trump should use diplomatic backchannels to inform Pakistan's government that U.S. financial and military aid is now going in one of two long-term directions. Namely, he should say that it will either be doubled, or cut entirely. The binary distinction is important because Pakistan believes that the U.S. will never totally remove its financial support. While the U.S. suspends or reduces a few hundred million dollars in payments from time to time, Pakistani officials are confident the money tap will keep flowing.
The offer of additional billions in U.S. aid is equally pivotal in this area. At one level, it will allow those who support the U.S. to become kings. After all, if U.S. aid grants are earmarked for individuals that favor U.S. interests, there will be a telling dichotomy in human benefits that they can offer to their people. The U.S. mastered this game against the Soviet Union, but forgot it at the end of the Cold War.
In addition, U.S. dollar bills would confront the fact that Pakistan's politicians and many leaders of its madrassas and tribal authorities are profoundly corrupt. Getting these leaders to defect means American-filled bank accounts.
Consider that if you're a mid- to high-level bureaucrat making ten or so thousand dollars a year, a $5 million estate in Florida might persuade you to inform on terrorists. This will be especially useful with those who are married and wish their children to have a better future in America. Regardless, Trump needs to recognize that breaking Pakistan's double-dealing won't be accomplished by threats alone.
Second, the president should authorize a covert action campaign against Pakistani hardliners who refuse to cooperate. Utilizing blackmail, threat, or violence, the sustaining objective would be stopping hard-liners turn a blind eye to terrorist groups. That matters because, at present, too many Pakistani leaders believe they won't suffer for supporting America's enemies. As an addendum, the U.S. will have to make clear that any mistreatment of U.S. diplomats or their families will result in a rapid and systemic deterioration in U.S.-Pakistan relations. Absent that, the ISI will play hardball.
And be under no illusions, in the short term, the hard-liners will want to play hardball in reacting to Trump's new pressure. They despise the United States, regard India as Satan, and exist as ideological and infrastructure gimps for the terrorists. They cannot be persuaded; only bought, coerced, or killed.
Third, Trump should immediately strengthen America's relationship with India. Some analysts believe that this course would alienate Pakistan, but I disagree. Instead, by supporting India, the U.S. would show Pakistan that it's seizing the strategic initiative. In response, Pakistan would have to decide between America representation in New Delhi, or a double-headed hydra.
If it chose wisely, Pakistan could then rely on U.S. lobbying to improve Indian investment in Pakistan, and a relaxed Indian military posture in the disputed Kashmir region.
Choosing poorly, Pakistan might embrace China. But if it does, America's message should be "good night and good luck." Pakistan's military knows that China will happily take their port at Gwadar and their energy access to central Asia, and then abandon them in a crisis. And whatever its economic power, China lacks the ability or interest to project military force on behalf of Pakistan's interests.
Fourth, and again behind the scenes, Trump should inform Pakistan that they have a small window in which to target Kashmiri-cutout groups for al Qaeda and Islamic State, the Pakistani Taliban, and the Haqqani network. The U.S. should tell Pakistan that if they fail to act substantively, it will do so unilaterally. That might mean re-escalated drone strikes and special operations raids. Pakistan hates such activities, fearing territorial destabilization.
Ultimately, Trump is right to shake up the deck on Pakistan. Just as he was right to call out Qatar, the president is showing true leadership in confronting the core suppliers of Islamist extremism. That said, Pakistan is a far harder nut to crack than Qatar, so Trump must be bold. Crucially, he must also calibrate his anger to America's strategic objectives. If not, Pakistan will keep up its old act: preaching good words in public and bad words in private, mixing good deeds with bad, and frustrating long term U.S. interests.