US has officially requested India to give some of its most lethal weapons including the Russian-made Mi-25 and Mi-35 helicopter to the Afghan National Army fighting against the Taliban 

The Trump administration has a much sharper recognition of Pakistan as provider of safe havens of terror, says Zalmay Khalilzad, former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and UN. In a hard hitting interview, Khalilzad says unlike other countries that have a military, the Pakistani military has a country and if it does not change its duplicitous behaviour on terror. US has a whole list of options to tighten the screws including listing Pakistan as state sponsor of terror.

In an exclusive conversation with The Tribune, Khalilzad stressed that the US is looking at alternate route options for supplies into Afghanistan to reduce dependency on Pakistan. He added that the US must encourage greater Indian role in Afghanistan despite Pak army’s objections. Smita Sharma spoke to him recently in Delhi.

What is the most significant change in America’s Af-Pak policy? 

Sharp focus on Pakistan and its policy of providing sanctuaries and support to terror groups that are fighting Afghan government and US troops and coalition partners is on radar. The administration recognises this as the core problem for Afghanistan and has developed a strategy to change Pakistani behaviour. At present they have cut off financial support to the security sector. If that does not produce results, then the administration will consider additional steps to increase the cost to Pakistan of its current policy.

Are the announcements rooted in ground realism and not just result of Trump’s temperamental sway? 

President Trump’s tweet was a reflection of conclusion that the engagement part, discussion diplomacy, giving them list of demands, names, terror groups that they were supporting - all this was not effective. The tweet concluded that phase. Now we are in a phase of moving on more coercive elements of the strategy.

But soon after aid suspension, statements followed towards Pak appeasement.

What the US is trying to do is to convince Pakistan that look we still want to have normal relations with you. This is suspension so you can recalculate and recalibrate because we don’t want to go to the next step.

Is reliance on Pak still inevitable for supplies to Afghan? Can US look at Chabahar port option? 

Chabahar port option is unlikely given nature of our relations with Iran generally. There are other options though. The US is working hard to develop them. The option from north through Central Asia and Caucasus to either purchase some of things we need like fuel from there rather than bringing them in from Pakistan side. And for some heavy equipment that air transportation may be difficult, some logistical needs for ground transportation remain. It will be little more expensive if you bring them from the north, but look at how much money we are saving if we apply the security assistance to Pak should they decide to stop us. Not using Karachi route will be a loss for Pakistan. They make money from supplies and give them influence over us.

With US push for India’s increased role in Af-Pak, will it cause more friction with Pak army? 

When we look at the world, the Asian future balance, China’s rise, we need partners to help and India is a very good partner. Helping India rise at a faster speed than it may is in interest of the US. That is the big picture. Regarding Afghan situation for last 15-16 years, we have discouraged Indian role in many areas. We have encouraged in some like economic and humanitarian but not in security, training, provision of equipment. But our showing understanding of this so called sensitivity of Pakistan establishment has not produced anything. This has encouraged more aggressiveness and it is smart to remove that constraint. Besides India has legitimate interests. Afghanistan and India have been neighbours long before Pakistan was created.

What is China’s role in the region today? 

China has become more powerful economically, militarily. Its ambitions have grown. It is seeking to play a bigger role in the region from South East Asia to Asia to the Middle East and beyond to Africa. Pakistan has been a strong ally of China for sometime. Gwadar has been sub contracted to them. Some 20,000 Chinese workers are in Pakistan. 

Pakistan is so heavily indebted to China because this project of CPEC is not a gift but a loan. How will Pakistan ever pay that? If China is seeking dominations, spheres of influence, precluding others, no rules agreement, that is undesirable and one need to be more cautious and even in some cases push back against that. Why is it that China can have long road from China to Gwadar and there cannot be a road between India and Afghanistan so there can be trade and normal relations. India has other options, going through Chabahar but ideally there should be not only a North-South corridor but an East-West corridor.

Is there any sign to indicate that Pak deep state is willing to change? 

Pakistan military is one that has a country rather than a country that has a military. But I think we have got their attention. I see indicators that they think business as usual is unlikely. They face some difficult choices. I do not know which way they will go. But we should know which way we will go. If they do not change we need to escalate pressure. We have the right of self defence. Pakistan is a sovereign country. But so is the United States. They allow terrorists from their territory to come and kill our people, kill coalition forces and civilians in Afghan. Don’t Afghan and US have same rights of self defence as others? Security assistance suspension could lead to economic pressures, taking them away from list of non-NATO major allies, talk to Saudis and other friends. Then maybe consider process of listing them as state sponsor of terror and sanction individuals who support terrorists so they cannot travel overseas and their foreign bank accounts could be frozen. This will take several stages.