Trump’s move to single out India to do more in Afghanistan could backfire

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IN the middle of Monday night’s fairly orthodox speech on Afghanistan, President Donald Trump swerved into a brief discussion of India. It would have been odd to summarise a “comprehensive review of all strategic options in Afghanistan and South Asia” without mentioning India, with 1.3 billion people. But the president, after studying “Afghanistan in great detail and from every conceivable angle”, used the occasion to prod India to do more to solve America’s 16-year Afghanistan problem.

Consistent with his mercantilist worldview, Trump highlighted that “India makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States”. This is true: India shipped approximately $24bn more in exports to the United States in 2016 than it imported from the US. After underlining India’s vulnerability, Trump then stressed, “We want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development.”

So what’s the story here? India has done much to help Afghanistan already, as Trump appropriately acknowledged in his address. India has provided $2bn of aid to Afghanistan, and pledged an additional $1bn more last September. It is, by far, the most generous donor among the “regional countries”.

Indian-built projects include a large hydroelectric dam and a “spur” that connects the Afghan highway network to Iran — and even the newly built Afghan parliament building. India has also trained more than 4,000 Afghan National Army officers and provided helicopters to the Afghan Air Force.

Like the United States, India does not want Afghanistan to act as a staging ground for international terrorists, many of whom would be as happy to target Indian cities as European or American ones. When US cruise missiles struck Al Qaeda-linked training camps in Afghanistan following the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, several members of anti-India terrorist groups were killed in the apparently shared facilities.

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