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'Trump administration has zero patience for Pakistan's terror policy'

The US is aiming to impose aid restrictions on Pakistan. In an interview with DW, analyst Michael Kugelman says if there's one US administration likely to take a hard line against Pakistan, it's the Trump administration.

DW: Is the US government finally taking a hard line against Pakistan?

Michael Kugelman: A tougher policy is certainly a strong possibility. If there is one US administration likely to take a hard line against Pakistan, it's the Trump administration. Trump projects himself as tough on terror and takes a very principled and strident approach to terror - it needs to be wiped out, wherever it is and in whatever form. It would seem that Trump would have zero patience for Pakistan's policy of going after some terrorists while letting others be.

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There has been speculation that the US could expand the drone war and cut Pakistan funds. The harshest critics of Pakistan believe that the US government should revoke Pakistan's status as a major non-NATO ally or even declare it as a state sponsor of terror. These extremely tough policies may well be in the policy tool-kit, though my sense is that the aid cuts and drone strikes would be more likely.

Michael Kugelman (C. David Owen Hawxhurst / WWICS)

Michael Kugelman

Read: Trump's Afghanistan policy will face big limitations

Do you think the Trump administration could force Pakistan to act against the Haqqani Network and other Islamist organizations Washington considers a threat to its interests?

I'm not sure they could. In fact, the Pakistani security establishment may respond to more sticks and less carrots from the US by doubling down and tightening its embrace of militants like the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

If the US revoked Pakistan's status as a major non-NATO partner state in the war against terror, how would it affect the situation in Afghanistan?

This would actually be quite devastating for the Pakistani military, because it would probably translate into major reductions in military assistance and arms sales. Pakistan can depend on the largesse of other countries like China and Saudi Arabia, but Islamabad really values the military support it has received from Washington over the years. Revoking Pakistan's status as a non-NATO partner would put this support in doubt and worry quite a few people within the Pakistani security establishment.

The question, however, is if the US would actually go through with such a drastic policy shift. Frankly, I think it's unlikely, at least in the immediate to mid term. The US continues to have troops in Afghanistan, and in fact the Trump administration is poised to send more. So long as the US has troops in Afghanistan, it will need to depend on Pakistan to provide supply routes for US troops. Taking a harder line against Pakistan would likely prompt Islamabad to shut down these supply routes, obliging America to use more circuitous and expensive routes. This could make the US war effort in Afghanistan even more difficult than it already is.

Pakistan is important because of its geographic location and its geopolitical relationship, there's no doubt about that. There's no way that the US will consider Pakistan unimportant, given that it borders Afghanistan, where Americans are fighting their longest ever war, and given that it has deep ties to the world's next superpower (China) and growing ties with one of the world's most dangerous revisionist powers (Russia).

Read: 'China and Russia want US out of Afghanistan'

If cornered by the Trump administration, can Pakistan tilt more toward China and Russia?

Certainly a harder US line would send Pakistan deeper into the embrace of China and Russia. But I don't think we should overstate this risk. For one thing, Pakistan is already moving closer to Russia, and especially China. For another thing, the interests and objectives of Russia, and especially China in Afghanistan, are actually closer to those of the US than to those of Pakistan. China and Russia both want a stable Afghanistan and have no interest in Taliban rule. Pakistan, of course, has major ties to the Taliban and arguably benefits from an unstable Afghanistan in that it complicates efforts by India to have a deep presence there.

Michael Kugelman is a senior associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars.

The interview was conducted by Aasim Saleem.

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