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U.S. may sanction Pakistani officials with ties to terrorists, Trump official says

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By LOUIS NELSON-President Donald Trump’s new, get-tough approach with Pakistan’s government could potentially include sanctioning Pakistani government officials with ties to terrorist organizations, a senior administration official said Tuesday morning, part of an overall regional strategy that he said has put Pakistan “on notice” that “business as usual as it has been up to now is over.”

Trump, in nationally televised address Monday night, announced that he would deploy a yet-unspecified number of additional troops to Afghanistan, bolstering the Afghan military in its fight against the Taliban. Those troops are part of a fresh regional approach, the official said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday, that also includes demanding more from the Pakistani government when it comes to combating terrorist groups. “I think the important takeaway for the Pakistani government last night is that, you know, they should understand that they’re on notice from this president, from this administration,” the official said. “The United States has been really patient with Pakistan for a really long time. We haven’t been getting a good deal from them.”

The call was held for administration allies and surrogates, not the media, but some news organizations who learned of the call dialed in, including POLITICO.

As part of the new strategy, the official said the U.S. could conceivably impose sanctions on terrorist groups including the Haqqani network, which has links to elements in the Pakistani government, as well as on any Pakistani officials “who are tied to these kinds of groups, you know, in ways that they shouldn’t be.”

That the president’s announced strategy was devoid of specifics regarding the exact number of troops set to be deployed or a timetable for that deployment was by design, multiple officials from his administration said Monday. Such decisions will be made based on “conditions on the ground,” Vice President Mike Pence told NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday morning, a departure from Obama-era strategy that the vice president said wound up “literally emboldening the enemies.”

“In the past, it’s always been time based on when we were going to get out, or based on the number of troops or based on all kinds of things. Now it’s results based, and that works,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Tuesday morning on CNN’s “New Day.” “It works when the president speaks up and says this is what we’re going to do, we’re going to stomp out terrorism and he follows through with it.” Trump was transparent in his remarks that his inclination had been to withdraw the U.S. from its long-running conflict in Afghanistan, a war he characterized on the campaign trail as a waste of money, but “decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office.” His willingness to further commit the U.S. to a war he so publicly opposed as a candidate was seen by some as an about-face, a notion that the official contested with reporters on Tuesday.

Trump “didn’t run as a pacifist and he didn’t run as an isolationist,” the spokesman said, nor did he “say America was going to cut and run out of every theater of war where we’re fighting.” Instead, the official insisted, the president promised a smarter, more focused use of the U.S. military and an end to nation-building policies.

“This is consistent with the president’s campaign promises and themes from 2016. I think there’s an impulse among some to try to paint this as a departure, as a break,” the official said of Trump’s Monday night announcement. “This idea that there’s some, you know, huge gap between what he promised and what he talked about in 2016 and what he laid out last night, I personally don’t see it. I was involved in the strategy development all throughout this process, never saw it.

The Pakistani government has been an uneasy ally of the U.S. in the years following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, cooperating with American military operations in Afghanistan while at times falling short of U.S. government expectations. The U.S. gives the Pakistani government substantial security aid, the official noted, and in return receive, at best, “indifference to border crossing and terrorist safe havens and sanctuaries” in Pakistan’s tribal regions along the Afghan border. “In the worst case,” the official said, the Pakistani government has been guilty of “active direct support” for terrorist groups.

While cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan was relatively strong in the years immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks, issues of trust surrounding U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and the discovery of terrorist Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani city that also hosts the Pakistan Military Academy have created fissures in the relationship.

Of particular worry to Pakistan has been the involvement of India, a fierce regional rival, in Afghanistan, a concern that the official characterized as an “excuse” on the part of the Pakistanis.

“What India is doing in Afghanistan is not a threat to Pakistan. They’re not building military bases. They’re not deploying troops,” the official said. “They’re not doing the things that would constitute encirclement, for lack of a better term, which is one of the things that the Pakistanis complain about.”

The official said the president had benefited from an outsider’s perspective on the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, eschewing the conventional wisdom that “however much the Pakistanis double-deal you and lie to you and don’t cooperate, you have no choice but to just keep the status quo.” The Trump official put the onus on the Pakistani government to repair its relationship with the U.S.

“How do we get the Pakistan to behave better? The answer is we have leverage points over Pakistan that the strategy contemplates we will use. Ultimately whether they behave better or not is completely up to them,” the official said.

“They may calculate that it’s more important to, you know, remain allied with terrorists, it’s more important to give terrorists safe haven, it’s more important to do all the nasty things that they’ve been doing that we don’t like than it is to have a good relationship with the United States,” he continued. “If so, that’s a choice that they will make and then we will make choices based on their choice.” (Politico)