Media interviews with Bolton – named NSA yesterday – from the recent past suggest that while he believes Pakistan does need to be dealt with firmly, the US needs to strike a delicate balance in the matter and leave the heavy lifting to China.
That’s because Bolton – a former US ambassador to the UN – believes that Pakistan, a nuclear weapons state, is perpetually teetering on the brink of embracing Islamic extremism and terror. And pushing it too hard could well lead to it becoming “a terrorist country with nuclear weapons”, or as Bolton described it last August to Breitbart.com, “Iran or North Korea on steroids”.
Bolton’s interview with Breitbart took place right after Trump announced his administration’s new policy on Afghanistan, which entailed putting pressure on Pakistan to end what Trump described as “safe havens to agents of chaos and terror”.
Bolton said he believes the US goal should be preventing the Taliban from taking back control and a key ally in the fulfilment of that goal, whether anyone likes it or not, is Pakistan.
“…it’s clear the President wants to pressure Pakistan more. Well, I agree with that, and I think Obama didn’t pressure them enough… But there’s a real problem with simply saying, ‘By God, we’re going to squeeze Pakistan until they finally push the Taliban, the Haqqani network, Gulbuddin Hekmati out of the privileged sanctuaries they’ve had in Pakistan, push them back into Afghanistan, and stop supplying them, stop giving them weapons, stop giving them money’ “, said Bolton to Breitbart.
Bolton said the problem with such an approach is that it might lead to a situation where anti-US sentiment fuels popular support for Islamist radicals and the Taliban.
“If you push too hard, this government in Pakistan is fragile. It has been since the partition of British India …The military in Pakistan itself is at risk, increasingly, of being infiltrated through the officer ranks by radical Islamists. Many people believe the intelligence services unit already is heavily dominated by Islamists,” he explained.
“…if Pakistani Taliban or other radicals took control of that country, it wouldn’t just be another base to launch terrorist operations against us or Western Europe. It would be a terrorist country with nuclear weapons, so it would be Iran or North Korea on steroids right now,” he warned.
Too much pressure on Pakistan could backfire, Bolton wrote last August in The Wall Street Journal.
“Putting too much pressure on Pakistan risks further destabilizing the already volatile country, tipping it into the hands of domestic radical Islamicists, who grow stronger by the day. In this unstable environment, blunt pressure by the U.S.—and, by inference, India — could backfire,” said the the now NSA in a column for the Journal.
Here’s where China can step in and should be pressured to, the new NSA said.
“China’s influence is, in some ways, greater than ours” in Pakistan because “there wouldn’t be a Pakistani nuclear weapons program without China.”
China is the key to keeping the house of cards from collapsing in Pakistan, Bolton said in his Journal column from August.
“If American pressure were enough to compel Pakistan to act decisively against the terrorists within its borders, that would have happened long ago. What President Trump needs is a China component to his nascent South Asia policy, holding Beijing accountable for the misdeeds that helped create the current strategic danger,” wrote Bolton.
The new US NSA has expressed similar views before last year as well. Following the finding and killing of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden in Rawalpindi in 2011, there was a lot of opposition in the US Congress about continuing aid to Pakistan. Many in the US believed that Pakistan has been shielding bin Laden.
“There are few recipients of foreign aid that attract more opposition in Congress than Pakistan,” said Bolton on Fox News in 2013.
But cutting off aid to Pakistan isn’t the answer, Bolton said. The larger issue, he explained, is preventing terrorists from wresting control of the country’s 60 to 100 nuclear weapons that could deploy to the U.S.
“You also have to weigh … [that] if we didn’t support this (Pakistan) government, the government could fall to Pakistani radicals,” he said, adding that’s the reason aid to Pakistan should continue.
“There are times you have to grit your teeth,” and pay, he said.