Category Archives: recent_publications

US-Iran spar on nuclear deal; India to play balancing act?

As the United States and Israel continue to pressure Iran and its pursuit of nuclear weapons, India might consider its options as one of the few countries who is friendly with both sides of this issue.

All eyes turned on President Trump as he addressed the UN General Assembly earlier this week. It was almost certain that even amidst all the tension in the Korean peninsula, Trump was expected to lay out his administration’s vision on the role played by the UN and on the US-Iran deal which was signed under the aegis of the previous administration.

Matters are sure to escalate in October as the White House is expected to withdraw from this deal. Iranian President Rouhani announced on Wednesday that Iran would respond “decisively and resolutely” if the US reneges on the 2015 agreement.

Indo-Iranian relations

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visits to Iran and the subsequent signing of the strategic Chabahar port deal are huge signs of positive relations between India and Iran. Although India and Iran formally established channels in the 1950s, it was not till the 1979 revolution that ties strengthened. The next twenty-odd years did not see much progress on this front but a defense cooperation agreement signed in 2002 and enhanced relations that followed saw these two countries becoming friendlier.

India and Iran do not share many strategic interests. In fact their foreign policy stances differ more often than not. Under Modi however, New Delhi seems to have realized that Iran is set to emerge as a key energy supplier and as an important regional player. What India has achieved in regard to Iran through diplomacy and complexity management, rather than threats, sanctions and demonetization, is to understand the Islamic republic as a vital bridge between East and East, and as the most stable, safe and inviting stop along the Silk Road.

However, India’s oil imports from Iran have been in steady decline since 2016, and hit their lowest level in 18 months in August 2017, with bad blood between Tehran and New Delhi over Iran’s decision to award its Farzad-B oilfield to Russian company Gazprom.

Impact on India so far

With the spike in rhetoric, New Delhi’s relations with Iran, including plans to invest $500 million in the Chabahar project, the $1.6 billion rail-line from Iran to Afghanistan, as well as about $9 billion in trade of which about half is in oil, could be impacted, especially if the U.S. increases pressure on New Delhi to reduce ties with Tehran, as it did in 2013 while negotiating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

So far, India has denied any such pressures from external sources (including the US) over the deep water project and confirmed “finalized orders” for infrastructure and equipment “without any difficulty”.


Trump, even before being elected, slammed the JCPOA. There is widespread belief of non-compliance on the Iranian side but there is no way to prove this. Since the Obama administration gave away any right to conduct meaningful inspections in Iran, military and “dirty” sites cannot be accessed. Further, ballistic missile programs were completely omitted from the deal altogether. A warhead is useless without a delivery system and by making this omission Iran can keep working on this part of the development, while technically remaining compliant with the deal.

But Iran is in violation of a related agreement, UN Security Council Resolution 2231through ballistic missile testing and export of weapons to Hezbollah and other terrorist groups. These are flagrant violations and Samantha Power, Obama’s UN Ambassador, felt obligated to point them out.

India’s New Role

India’s main goal has been to secure access to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Given India’s increasingly close ties with the US, and the importance of Iran in the context of connectivity with Afghanistan and Central Asia, Trump’s foreign policy may well pose a major challenge to India, as officials in New Delhi seek to strike a balance between good relations with Washington and closer ties with Tehran.

Perhaps most worrying for India is the possibility of an Iranian pivot towards Pakistan and China, to further irk the White House. Following Trump’s address to the UN, where he accused Pakistan for providing safe havens to militants, Iran came to the defense of their long-term ally. A foreign ministry spokesman, Bahram Ghasemi, noted: “What presently the U.S. is highlighting to condemn other countries is the result of years of wrong and inappropriate policies of Americans in the countries of the region, especially Afghanistan.”

India is also expected to closely monitor any moves Iran might make in the Middle East with respect to Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Many high-ranking Iranian ministers have recently met with their Turkish counterparts to explore synergies in counter-terrorism efforts in the Syrian conflict. There is less reason for optimism regarding overtures between Iran and Saudi Arabia but the exchange at the OIC was notable and will perhaps pave the way for dialogue and restoration of diplomatic relations between Tehran and Riyadh.

New Delhi has strong ties with both Iran and Saudi Arabia, yet maintaining this geopolitical balance in the Persian Gulf will continue to prove challenging for India. India has also managed to benefit from the two countries’ rivalry by playing Tehran and Riyadh off each other. Given India’s growing importance to Iran and to the GCC countries, New Delhi could perhaps pressure all Persian Gulf states into urging Pakistan to take action against certain terrorist organizations. Saudi Arabia has been apprehensive about India aligning too closely with Iran, and this has resulted in Riyadh not only adopting a more nuanced stance on terrorism emanating from Pakistan and in extraditing terrorists, but also strengthening security cooperation with India.

The dynamics in this equation go well beyond the three major parties. With regional and competitive players engaging with these parties, India must not forget its overarching goals. It should rise to the occasion and mediate talks/discussions as both, the US and Iran, see it as a friendly actor. It will be in India’s best interest for them to reach another deal to facilitate continual economic and political cooperation. Modi and his team of foreign advisers will do well to use this opportunity to convince the US and other international players that India can take the lead on big issues.

Image courtesy: Indian Express.

Creating an Indicator of K–12 Classroom Coverage of STEM Content and Practices

Research questions:

  1. How can exposure to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) content and practices be measured?
  2. How can existing measures of instructional practice be used to measure students’ exposure to STEM content and practices?
  3. What new technology-based approaches could be adapted to create measures of STEM content and practices?

In 2013, the National Research Council identified 14 indicators for tracking the nation’s progress toward improving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in the United States. This report focuses on indicator 5, classroom coverage of content and practices in the Common Core State Standards for mathematics and the Next Generation Science Standards.

One of the primary limitations of most existing methods is their focus on what the teacher does rather than what students experience. This focus on the teacher can be particularly limiting in classrooms in which different students are engaged in different learning activities simultaneously. These within-classroom differences can result from efforts to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of individual students and are likely to be especially prevalent in classrooms that rely on technology-based, personalized-learning approaches. This report describes the rationale for examining new approaches to measuring students’ exposure to standard-aligned content and practices, summarizes what is known about currently available measures, and explores innovative approaches that might be adopted to create new measures.

Key Findings

Surveys Appear to Be the Most Plausible Method for Measuring Exposure to STEM Content and Practices Across the United States at This Time

  • Surveys are relatively inexpensive and can be deployed fairly easily for large-scale data collection.

Technology-Based Learning Systems, Particularly Simulations, Have Potential to Support Future STEM Indicator Measurement Efforts

  • New applications of instructional technology offer the possibility of novel data-collection approaches that could gather detailed information on what students are doing and how much time they spend doing it.

The Use of Technology-Based Learning Systems for Large-Scale Measurement Is Likely to Be Limited Because of Variability Across Schools in the Computer-Based Tools and Other Instructional Materials That Are Adopted and Used

  • One major factor that will hinder large-scale adoption is the substantial diversity of software products used across schools, along with inconsistency in how data are collected and how the software reports them.

STEM Practices, Such as Those Identified in the Common Core State Standards for Math and the Next Generation Science Standards, Are Enacted Differently in Different Content Areas

  • For a large-scale indicator system, measures of these practices are likely to require sampling across classrooms or schools to capture different content areas without overburdening respondents.

Some Opportunities to Engage in STEM Content and Practices Occur Outside of Traditional Courses

  • Out-of-school opportunities to engage in STEM learning are common, particularly in such areas as robotics.


  • Create a working group to inform indicator development.
  • Use multiple measures to collect evidence related to indicator 5.
  • Begin by building on existing data-collection tools and systems.
  • Design the measures to support longitudinal comparisons.
  • Consider incorporating measures of student knowledge into the broader indicator system.
  • Avoid attaching stakes to the measures.
  • Continue to conduct research on STEM teaching and learning to inform future indicator efforts.

Read full report here.

Source: Laura S. HamiltonBrian M. StecherKun Yuan of the RAND Corporation. Image courtesy: Inside Higher Ed.

Highlights and Analysis from Modi and Trump meet

Washington – President Trump and Prime Minister Modi delivered a joint-statement in the Rose Garden on the future of Indo-US relations on Monday evening. As Modi tried to establish a personal equation and a working relationship with the newly elected President, the Prime Minister seemed to have enjoyed this ‘perfect meeting of minds’ as the two proceeded to enjoy a working dinner. Although the trip was overshadowed by the meeting between the two leaders, other developments also took place over Modi’s brief stint in the US.


CEO’s optimistic about India

Modi’s trip kicked off with a round table that was attended by top American CEOs, including those of Apple, Microsoft, Google, Mastercard, among others. India’s unprecedented growth has already established a win-win situation for India and foreign companies and PM Modi reinforced the great opportunities available in the subcontinent. Issues ranging from visas to investments and job-creation enjoyed the spotlight.



Modi and Trump could’ve switched scripts while addressing terrorism. There was repetitive reiteration on the threats posed by radical Islamic terrorism and both’s commitment to strengthening cooperation to defeat groups like al-Qaeda, ISIS, LeT, JeM, and any violent affiliates. The two called on Pakistan, expecting leaders to crack down on terror groups and ensure their territory is not being used to launch attacks on other countries.

The US also announced that Hizb-ul-Mujahideen leader will also be announced as a ‘Special Designated Global Terrorist’ as a sign of immediate commitment.


China, Asia-Pacific, and Maritime security

More common ground could be found between the leaders on issues pertaining to maritime security in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. There was emphasis on freedom of navigation, overflight, and safe passage of commerce through the region. Increased naval exercises between the US and India (and Japan, at some point), along with an approval for 22-Guardian surveillance drones, were also announced.

What seemed to be on course for a strong language against Chinese activity in the region took a calculated turn when North Korea came up. Modi and Trump labelled the rogue regime as one “[who’s] pursuit of nuclear and ballistic missile programs poses a grave threat to regional security and global peace”. This was despite, following Otto Warmbier’s death and persistent tests by Pyongyang, Trump took to Twitter to question China’s ability to counter Kim and co.




Indo-US relations will see a new emphasis on trade and economic ties. According to a statement issued by the White House, there will be greater importance given to how economic trade will be done, with references to “balancing the trade deficit”. Trump has noted on a few occasions that India enjoys a surplus in trade with the US and he noted in his address for India to remove any barriers for the sale of US goods and services.

Prime Minister Modi also invited President Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump to lead the US delegation to the Global Entrepreneruship Summit (GES) later this year.


Long story short, Modi seemed to have got off on the right footing with Trump. The PM enjoyed a certain level of camaraderie with former President Obama and might have succesfully resumed that with President Trump. For being their first meeting (with the obvious goal of securing a strong relationship-foundation), Modi would’ve left Washington feeling satisfied.

However, it must be noted that a lot depends on how words will be translated into actions, especially on trade and terrorism. More importantly, the subject of ‘China’ continues to go insufficiently addressed, if not completely unaddressed. The 2015 US-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region was skipped entirely and instead vague, action-less rhetoric was resorted to. Similar talk was used with respect to Afghanistan. The joint-statement indicated a non-committal stance on the nature of India’s contribution for now. This could however change once the US has a revised Af-Pak policy.

Certain items, as expected, were completely ignored. No references were made to the Paris Climate Accords. “The leaders called for a rational approach that balances environment and climate policy, global economic development, and energy security needs”, omitting any mentions of financial support from donor countries. Trump did announce however that India will escalate its energy purchases from the US in the form of “more natural gas, clean coal, and renewable resources and technologies [that] are available to fuel India’s economic growth and inclusive development.”

In conclusion, the hysteria and hugs shouldn’t distract from the fact that actions speak louder than words. These summits usually have a bigger impact on the media and TV outlets than on overall policy. Alternatively, it broadcasts a strong signal of intent to adversaries like Pakistan without doing anything costly. But with the evolution of today’s 24-second news-cycle, results are key. What must be essential is a continuous task-based dialogue between Indian officers and their American counter-parts. Modi might have found a new friend in the White House that thrives on results, but Indian initiative and leadership needs to reflect that friendship as well.


Header image courtesy: CNN.

Spending Cuts in President Trump’s 2018 Budget

The Trump administration has released its 2018 budget plan, which includes spending and revenue projections for the 2018 to 2027 period. The plan would increase spending on defense, infrastructure, paid leave, and a few other items, but would reduce overall spending substantially compared to the baseline. The plan would cut numerous programs, and it would eliminate the budget deficit within a decade.

The spending cuts in the Trump plan would be beneficial for numerous reasons:

  • Cuts would reduce federal deficits, which have plagued the government since the turn of the century. The budget’s spending cuts are being called cruel and heartless, but chronic deficits are imposing huge costs on young Americans down the road, which is totally unethical.
  • Cuts would spur economic growth. Reforms to welfare programs, for example, will encourage more people to join the labor force and add to the nation’s output.
  • Cuts would expand freedom because many federal programs—such as Obamacare—come with top-down rules and regulations that micromanage society.

Here are thoughts on some of Trump’s proposed spending reforms:

  • Overall Spending. The budget would cut spending $4.6 trillion over 10 years, which sounds like a huge cut, but it would be just 9 percent of the $53.5 trillion in projected spending over the period.
  • Medicaid. Spending on this huge health program has soared from $118 billion in 2000 to $389 billion this year. The explosive growth is caused by the program’s poor design—it lacks incentives for cost control and it has open-ended matching for state spending. The budget would shift the program to a more efficient structure of capped payments for states, saving federal taxpayers $610 billion over 10 years. More on the program here.
  • Food Stamps. The cost of the food stamp program has moderated in recent years as the economy has grown, but this $71 billion program has grown from just $18 billion in 2000. The Trump budget would reduce the program’s cost by tightening work requirements and imposing a state government match. The reform would save $193 billion over 10 years. More here.
  • Social Security Disability Insurance. The SSDI has soared in cost from $56 billion in 2000 to $144 this year. It is in desperate need of reform. A key problem is that SSDI discourages disabled Americans who can work and want to work from entering the labor force. The budget would restructure the program to encourage work and save $72 billion over 10 years. More here.
  • Federal Pensions. The CBO found that federal workers receive benefits 47 percent higher, on average, than comparable private-sector workers. One cause of the excess is that federal workers receive both a defined-benefit and defined-contribution pension plan. The Trump budget would scale back the cost of the defined-benefit plan to save $63 billion over a decade. More here.
  • Earned Income Tax Credit. The EITC is mainly a spending program, which has soared in cost from $32 billion in 2000 to about $70 billion today. The program has been plagued for years by an error and fraud rate of more than 20 percent. The budget would trim the waste by about $40 billion over the decade. More here.
  • Farm subsidies. Farm welfare damages the economy, harms the environment, and skews heavily toward wealthy households. In 2015 the average income of farm households was $119,880, which was 51 percent higher than the $79,263 average of all U.S. households. The budget would trim subsidies modestly by $38 billion over the decade. More here.
  • Discretionary Programs. The budget builds on the discretionary cuts proposed in the March mini-budget by reducing nondefense spending $1.8 trillion over 10 years compared to the baseline. Many discretionary programs—such as education subsidies—are properly state and local responsibilities. If state and local governments believe that programs are crucial, they can pony up the funding themselves. There is no magic money tree in Washington, as the $20 trillion federal debt makes clear.

Trump budget chief Mick Mulvaney said “This is, I think, the first time in a long time that an administration has written a budget through the eyes of the people who are actually paying the taxes.” He’s right, and he should be commended for proposing overdue reforms for such a wide range of spending programs.

Many members of Congress are denouncing or dismissing the proposed cuts, but they are in denial of the large reforms that will need to be made eventually because of the nonstop growth in the big entitlement programs. Social Security retirement and Medicare should be cut as well, but the Trump budget provides Congress with many good ideas to start paring back the bloated federal welfare state.

President Obama left office having roughly doubled the gross federal debt from about $10 trillion to $20 trillion. We don’t know yet whether Trump will be any more fiscally responsible than Obama. But he does get credit for giving his budget team room to explore major downsizing options across the vast $4.1 trillion federal government.

Source: Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute. Image courtesy: NBC News.

Twenty-Five Years of Indian Economic Reform


Economic reforms that began 25 years ago have transformed India. What used to be a poor, slow-growing country now has the third-largest gross domestic product (GDP) in the world with regard to purchasing power parity and is projected to be the fastest-growing major economy in the world in 2016 (with 7.6 percent growth in GDP). Once an object of pity, India has become an object of envy. It has been called a potential superpower and the only credible check on Chinese power in Asia in the 21st century. Hence, the United States has backed India for a permanent seat in the United Nations and has persuaded the Nuclear Suppliers Group to exempt India from the usual nuclear nonproliferation rules.

Yet India’s success has been tarnished in several areas. The past 25 years can be largely summed up as a story of private-sector success and government failure, of successful economic reform tainted by institutional erosion. Although many old controls have been abolished, many still continue, and a plethora of new controls have been created in areas relating to the environment, health, tribal areas, and land. What leftist critics have denounced as an era of neoliberalism is better called neo-illiberalism. India remains in the bottom half of countries measured by indicators of economic freedom. Social indicators of education, health, and nutrition have improved much too slowly, and India has been overtaken in some indicators by poorer Bangladesh and Nepal. The delivery of all government services remains substandard. Political interference has eroded the independence and quality of institutions ranging from the police and courts to educational and cultural institutions. India’s economic reforms over 25 years have transformed it from a low-income country to a middle-income one. But to become a high-income country, India must liberalize the economy much further, improve governance, and raise the quality of its institutions.


In 1991 India embarked on major reforms to liberalize its economy after three decades of socialism and a fourth of creeping liberalization. Twenty-five years later, the outcome has been an outstanding economic success. India has gone from being a poor, slow-growing country to the fastest-growing major economy in the world in 2016. The World Economic Outlook for 2016 says that the United States and India are the two pillars of strength today that are helping hold up a sagging world economy.1 Once an object of pity, India has become an object of envy among developing countries; it is often called a potential superpower and is backed by the United States for a seat on the UN Security Council.

Yet those successes have been accompanied by significant failures and weaknesses in policies and institutions. The past 25 years of liberalization are largely a story of private-sector success and government failure and of successful economic reform tarnished by institutional erosion. Even as old controls have been abolished, new ones have been created, so what leftist critics call an era of neoliberalism could more accurately be called neo-illiberalism.

The quality of government services remains abysmal, and social indicators have improved much too slowly. The provision of public goods — police, judiciary, general administration, basic health and education, and basic infrastructure — has seriously lagged improvements in economic performance. Political appointees and government interference erode the independence and quality of institutions ranging from the courts and universities to health and cultural organizations. India’s economic reforms have been highly successful in moving the country from low-income to middle-income status, despite little improvement in its institutions and quality of public goods. To sustain rapid growth and to become a high-income country, India will need major reforms to deepen liberalization and build high-quality institutions.


It is difficult for youngsters today to grasp that until 1990, India was famous (or perhaps infamous) as the biggest beggar in the world, seeking food aid and foreign aid from all and sundry. It was hamstrung by a million controls, imposed in the holy name of socialism and then used by politicians to create patronage networks and line their pockets. On attaining independence in 1947, Indian politicians were worried that imperial foreign rule would return in the guise of economic domination through trade and investment.

So India sought “economic independence” to buttress political independence, and that took the form of aiming for economic sufficiency, along with a variation on soviet-style five-year plans. India’s share of global trade fell steadily from 2.2 percent at independence to 0.45 percent in 1985, and that was actually hailed as a policy triumph by Indian socialists. The public sector was supposed to gain the commanding heights of the economy. Nothing could be manufactured without an industrial license or imported without an import license, and those licenses were scarce and difficult to get. Any producers who exceeded their licensed capacity faced possible imprisonment for the sin of violating the government’s sacred plan targets. India was perhaps the only country in the world where improving productivity (and hence exceeding licensed capacity) was a crime.

The underlying socialist theory was that the market could not be trusted to produce good social outcomes, so the government in its wisdom must determine where the country’s scarce resources should be deployed and what exactly should be produced, in what location, and by whom. In other words, the people would be best served when they had no right to decide what to produce and no right to decide what to consume: that was all to be left to a benevolent government.2

In its first three decades after independence in 1947, the Indian economy averaged just 3.5 percent GDP growth, which was derisively called the “Hindu rate of growth.” That was half the rate achieved by the Asian tigers.

Indian socialism reached its zenith in the 1970s, when the banks and several major industries were nationalized. The top income tax rate rose to 97.75 percent, and the wealth tax to 3.5 percent. The Garibi Hatao (Abolish Poverty) slogan of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (1969-77) aimed to cut fat cats to size and create a paradise for the poor. In fact, the poverty ratio did not fall at all until 1983.

Meanwhile, the population had virtually doubled since independence in 1947, meaning that the number of poor people virtually doubled in this socialist era. There could scarcely be a crueler demonstration of how policies in the name of the poor could end up impoverishing them even further. GDP growth improved to 5.5 percent in the 1980s because of some very modest liberalization plus a government spending spree. But the spending spree was unsustainable and ended in tears and empty foreign exchange reserves in 1991.3

P. V. Narasimha Rao became prime minister in 1991. The Soviet Union was collapsing at the time, proving that more socialism could not be the solution for India’s ills. Meanwhile, Deng Xiaoping had revolutionized China with market-friendly reforms. And so Indian politicians turned in the direction of the market too. India had no Thatcher or Reagan leading any ideological charge. Reform was very pragmatic, with Rao insisting he was pursuing a “middle path” and not a radical transformation. The Indian economy took two years to stabilize but then achieved record growth of 7.5 percent in the three years 1994-97. When the reforms began, all opposition parties had slammed them as a sellout to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But when the outcome was record GDP growth, the objections melted away in practice even if not in rhetoric. Every successive government that came to power continued down the path of economic liberalization, despite some steps backward. The reforms were erratic and half-baked but not reversed.4

The Asian financial crisis of 1997-99 laid India low, yet it proved far more resilient than other Asian nations. Soon after came two droughts (in 2000 and 2002), the dot-com collapse and global recession of 2001, and the huge global uncertainty created in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Indian economy sputtered in those difficult years, and average GDP growth slowed to 5.7 percent in 1997-2003. But then followed the global boom of 2003-8, spearheaded by China, which lifted all boats across the world. India’s GDP growth soared, and it reached a peak of over 9 percent per year in the three years 2005-8.5

The euphoria of those days has now dimmed. Many serious problems arose after 2010-11, such as widespread charges of mass corruption, which led to paralysis in decisionmaking; a collapse of the public-private partnership model for infrastructure; huge bank losses; huge losses from state electricity boards giving massive subsidies and failing to check electricity theft; and major problems in land acquisition, environmental clearances, and other clearances, which led to delays that killed some capital-intensive projects. The economy slowed, and that plus the anticorruption public mood led to the crushing defeat of the Congress Party-led coalition in the 2014 election after a decade of mostly successful rule.

The new government led by Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party has sought to tackle some of the worst problems, and growth has picked up to an estimated 7.5 percent in 2015-16. That growth rate is slower than before, yet China has slowed even more dramatically to 6.5 percent. So India has become the fastest-growing major economy in the world, an unexpected and notable feat, even if it owes more to the slowing of China than to its own acceleration.6

Public anger over corruption and failed government services has risen, so the public mood in India today is far from triumphant. Although India’s position in the world has been transformed beyond recognition in the past 25 years, much reform is still needed, above all reforms in governance, institutions, and the delivery of government services.

Continue reading the full version here.

Source: Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar of the Cato Institute. Image courtesy Voice.

Would More Government Infrastructure Spending Boost the U.S. Economy?

President Donald J. Trump has promised to induce $1 trillion of new public and private investment in infrastructure over the next decade. He believes that strategy will be beneficial both for short-run, macroeconomic reasons (it will stimulate the economy) and for long-run, microeconomic reasons (it will improve productivity). This paper assesses both sets of reasoning, finding that the case for more government investment is significantly weaker than commonly asserted.

Because the United States is at or near full employment with interest rates rising, standard Keynesian arguments do not suggest infrastructure spending financed by borrowing would offer a macroeconomic stimulus. In practice, major projects take years of planning and cannot be used readily to manage the economy anyway.

Historical evidence showing significant positive effects of government infrastructure investments on productivity provides little guidance on the worthiness of new projects today. Congestion and changing demand patterns do necessitate new infrastructure investments, and government spending in certain areas can enhance growth. But U.S. infrastructure is not in the dire physical condition asserted by politicians, scope for more private funding is ample, and resources allocated through the political process are often badly managed and prioritize ambitions that undermine economic performance.

The focus on the supposed stimulus and productivity-enhancing effects of infrastructure spending means policy debates center heavily on government funding. Yet proposals for more federal spending, costly tax credits, or public-private partnerships ignore that the primary barriers to responsive infrastructure relate to structures and incentives. Rather than imposing further costs on taxpayers, the new administration should prioritize localizing decision-making, removing regulatory barriers to private investment, encouraging the use of user fees, and removing tax exemptions for public investment.

Continue to full version by clicking here.

Source: Ryan Bourne of the Cato Institute. Image courtesy TSC.

A New U.S. Approach to Pakistan: Enforcing Aid Conditions without Cutting Ties

The new Trump Administration must review its policies toward Pakistan in order to more effectively contain, and eventually eliminate, the terrorist threats that continue to emanate from the country. The activities and operations of diverse terror groups on and from Pakistani soil, and the government’s failure to rein them in, threaten vital U.S. national security interests in the region. These include stabilizing Afghanistan, keeping the country from again turning into a global terrorist safe haven, and preventing the outbreak of an India-Pakistan military conflict that could potentially go nuclear.

Obama administration officials came into office eight years ago with the idea that they could coax Pakistan into changing key policies by elevating the U.S.-Pakistan partnership. To these ends, Washington instituted a strategic dialogue and increased both economic and military aid levels.

Unfortunately, Pakistan never changed its policy of supporting certain militant groups that fight Afghan and coalition forces, thus making it impossible for the United States to achieve its objective of keeping Afghanistan from reverting to a safe haven for international terrorism. The U.S. clearly recognizes that Pakistan’s support for the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network and other terrorist groups is not the sole reason for Afghanistan’s security challenges. However, the other problems become insurmountable when the principal insurgent groups enjoy safe havens in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Pakistani military leaders also continue to support terrorist groups that attack India in an effort to keep it off balance and to draw international mediation into the dispute with India over Kashmir. Pakistan’s seemingly unconstrained expansion of its nuclear arsenal, particularly the development of tactical nuclear weapons and extended–range missile systems, also remains a cause for concern, especially with regard to India.

U.S. assistance levels to Pakistan reached their height in 2011, when the U.S. provided $3.6 billion in military and economic aid, and have decreased every year since. One reason for the decline in aid levels is due to the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan and the decreased reliance on Pakistan for Ground Lines of Communication (GLOCs). Another reason is growing frustration, particularly among members of the U.S. Congress, with continued Pakistani support to the Taliban and Haqqani network that fight Afghan and coalition forces.

To accomplish U.S. counterterrorism objectives in the region and to reverse extremist trends in Pakistani society, Pakistani authorities – specifically the country’s military leaders, who control its foreign and security policies – need to take a comprehensive approach to shutting down all Islamist militant groups that operate from Pakistani territory, not just those that attack the Pakistani state. In the end, turning a blind eye and providing support to some terrorist groups creates an environment conducive to the operation of all terrorist groups.

Pakistan’s tolerance for terror groups also undermines the country itself, corroding its stability and civilian governance and damaging its investment climate, as well as inflicting death and injury on thousands of its own innocent citizens.

Accordingly, the objective of the Trump administration’s policy toward Pakistan must be to make it more and more costly for Pakistani leaders to employ a strategy of supporting terrorist proxies to achieve regional strategic goals. There should be no ambiguity that the U.S. considers Pakistan’s strategy of supporting terrorist proxies to achieve regional strategic advantage as a threat to U.S. interests. U.S. policy must also pay attention to non-proliferation goals while dealing with Pakistan.

At the same time, the Trump Administration should be clear in all forums that the U.S. issue is not with the Pakistani people or the Pakistani nation. Rather, Washington takes strong exception to specific policy choices by parts of the Pakistan Government – chiefly, the military and intelligence apparatus centered in Rawalpindi, adjacent to the capital, Islamabad – that support the existence and activities of terrorist proxies. Accordingly, the Trump administration should both publicly and privately maintain avenues for Pakistan to become a U.S. ally, as well as trade and investment partner, in the future, should its leaders embrace the conduct and policies of an ally.

Moving forward, the Trump administration must link U.S. policies toward Pakistan directly to U.S. objectives, especially in Afghanistan. The U.S. must find ways to limit Pakistan’s ability to frustrate U.S. goals in Afghanistan. Likewise, the U.S. must refuse to get involved in the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir and instead focus on diplomatically isolating Pakistan over its continued support to terrorist groups that attack India and have connections to international terrorism. The U.S. should encourage both India and Pakistan to exercise restraint and pursue measures normalizing their relationship.


In March 2009, then-President Barack Obama defined his top priority as being to disrupt, dismantle and defeat the al-Qaida infrastructure in Pakistan, which posed an imminent and significant threat to the United States and its allies. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was the lead element in the fight. Drone strikes intensified dramatically. In May 2011 Osama bin Laden was tracked down by the CIA, and a Navy SEAL team delivered justice.

Pakistan had helped capture some key al-Qaida leaders in the early years after 9/11. However, in the last decade, the U.S. has not been able to count on consistent Pakistani support in the war against al-Qaida. Today the al-Qaida infrastructure in Pakistan is much reduced but not destroyed. Bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is still in Pakistan, producing propaganda that calls for attacks on Americans. U.S. intelligence officials reportedly believe that Bin Laden’s son, Hamza, is also active in Pakistan.

Like several other U.S. presidents since the 1980s, former President Barack Obama saw Pakistan as a potentially useful ally in achieving limited U.S. goals in South Asia. The administration hoped that with the right kind of incentives – economic and military – Pakistan could be induced to change those policies that ran counter to U.S. interests. These undesirable policies included Pakistan’s support for terrorists targeting Afghanistan and India and continued expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

A Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) was designated to demonstrate American commitment to the region, as well as an understanding of the links between the challenges facing these two neighboring countries. The SRAP office became the inter-agency focal point for Afghanistan-Pakistan policy, separated from the State Department’s South and Central Asia Bureau.

As part of the plan to reassure Pakistan of American support, Washington dispatched the SRAP for frequent visits to both Kabul and Islamabad; held structured strategic dialogues, both on a bilateral and trilateral basis; and invited Afghan and Pakistani leaders to visit Washington on a regular basis. The creation of the SRAP office, however, at times undermined the goals of the State Department’s South and Central Asia Bureau and resulted in confused U.S. messaging to Pakistan.

Large amounts of economic and military aid have not induced Pakistan to end covert support for the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, or the myriad India-focused terrorist groups, most notably Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, which Pakistan describes as “freedom fighters.”

Encouraged by the election of a civilian government in Pakistan in 2008, the Obama administration decided to offer a multi-year civilian aid package to Pakistan as an incentive for the government to cooperate with the U.S. This was the first time the U.S. explicitly showed support for civilian rule in Pakistan with high doses of economic assistance. The Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009 (also referred to as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill) offered $1.5 billion in civilian aid for five years with a possibility of extension for another five years. It was presented as the end of “transactional” relations with Pakistan’s military and the beginning of a deeper partnership with its people and their elected representatives.

The package of civilian aid offered to Pakistan came with strings designed to gently nudge Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment to back away from support to militant groups, whether they operated in Afghanistan or India. Positive inducements to the military were offered in the form of aid – materiel and cash, including reimbursements. Public praise was accompanied by private pressure to alter Pakistan’s policies.

Washington hoped that civilian aid (through the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill) and support to a civilian government would help strengthen democratic trends in the country and allow the civilians to exert greater control over the military and intelligence services. That hope was not fulfilled. The aid package, however, was not designed in such a way to make a significant impact on the economy and health or education systems. Pakistan’s civilian governments — both the PPP government (2008-2013) and the PML/N government (2013-present) — have proved unable to push back sufficiently against the existing national security paradigm, and policies framed by Pakistan’s security establishment have endured.

Moreover, the U.S. need for Pakistan’s logistics support in supplying its troops in Afghanistan resulted in a situation wherein Washington’s offer of carrots could not be backed by the threat of effective sticks. The Obama administration wanted to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan, leaving behind a secure and stable government in charge. To that end, it pursued a political solution to the Afghan conflict that depended on Pakistan’s using its influence to persuade the Taliban to negotiate.

While Pakistan’s military leaders may see advantages in a negotiated outcome, they have so far been unwilling to put enough pressure on the Taliban to lower the violence in Afghanistan and to induce the insurgents to negotiate seriously. Without sufficient pressure on their sanctuary inside Pakistan, the Taliban continue to assess they can win the war militarily. Indeed, there are past examples of Pakistan actively working to disrupt peace efforts between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

The fact that Osama Bin Laden was enjoying sanctuary in a location close to Pakistan’s military academy at the time of the U.S. attack in May 2011 reinforced American disenchantment with Pakistan. But American dependence on Pakistan for access and logistics support for U.S. troops inside Afghanistan preempted punitive action. The flow of U.S. assistance continued, despite intelligence that attacks on American and ISAF troops in Afghanistan by the Afghan Taliban or the Haqqani network were orchestrated from Pakistani territory.

In November 2011, U.S.-led NATO forces carried out a counterterrorism attack on a location close to the Pakistan border. Pakistani troops used artillery and heavy machine guns to attack the U.S. helicopters, based on rules of engagement issued by the Pakistani military command following the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011. U.S. aircraft engaged the Pakistani border outpost with counter fire that resulted in the deaths of 28 Pakistani soldiers. In retaliation, Pakistan closed the GLOCs for NATO forces. Until January 2013, the U.S relied on the more expensive northern route.

Pakistan, whose port and trucking companies had benefited by serving the GLOCs, eventually agreed to a compromise solution that re-opened the routes. This gave Pakistani officials an opportunity to claim that the U.S. had effectively acknowledged Pakistan’s indispensability to the U.S.

Now, at the start of the new Trump administration, the U.S. continues to provide economic and military assistance to Pakistan without having secured its objective of convincing Pakistan to end its policy of using terrorist proxies to achieve regional strategic objectives. However, there have been some positive developments with regard to Pakistan’s fight against terrorists that attack the Pakistani state.

Since mid-2014, Pakistan has conducted a major crackdown on the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP, the so-called Pakistani Taliban) in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. This has helped reduce the terror threat inside Pakistan. The Pakistan government also passed a National Action Plan in Parliament in January 2015 to eliminate terrorism and extremism in the country. But these positive moves are incomplete and may not be sustained. They have thus far spared some of the country’s most powerful terrorist organizations and have not targeted the Afghan groups that receive sanctuary in Pakistan — the very groups that most threaten the Afghan state’s existence.

There are conflicting signals as to whether the Pakistani civilian leadership understands the importance of taking a comprehensive approach to combating terrorism and extremism, while it seems clear that leaders within the military and intelligence establishment continue to favor a policy of supporting some terrorist groups that fight in Afghanistan and India. Some Pakistani civilian leaders are concerned over Pakistan’s increasing international isolation over the issue of support for terrorism.

There has been some cautious optimism that Pakistan’s newly-appointed Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Bajwa could pursue a tougher line on terrorism than did his predecessor, General Raheel Sharif. General Sharif cracked down on terrorists threatening the Pakistani state, but he did little to rein in those that attack in Afghanistan and India. The smooth transition from one Army Chief to another and the apparent lack of interference in Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s decision-making process on the appointment have been received positively by Pakistan’s neighbors. However, it is too early to tell whether General Bajwa will follow through on any meaningful changes to Pakistan’s terrorism policies. Similar hopes with previous army commanders over the last two decades have gone without fulfillment.

The Obama administration erred in relying on a combination of personal ties with Pakistani military commanders and offers of economic and military assistance as instruments for change in Pakistan’s policies. Admiral Michael Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, held 25 meetings with Pakistan’s former army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, hoping to influence his thinking. Numerous high level visits, including meetings of Pakistan’s top leaders with President Obama, also failed to result in desirable changes in Pakistani policies.

To be fair, the Obama administration was not the first to accept Pakistani assurances and promises of change at face value. U.S. administrations going back to President Eisenhower have pinned great hopes on their alliance with Pakistan only to be disappointed and frustrated.

Pakistanis believe that they offer a fair exchange to the U.S. for its aid by fitting into U.S. strategic plans – containing Communism in the 1950s and 1960s, fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and dealing with al-Qaida after 9/11. They complain that Washington does not always understand Pakistan’s regional concerns and aspirations. In other words, Pakistan justifies its conduct towards the U.S. on grounds of its own threat perceptions.

Pakistan’s use of terrorist groups as part of its security and foreign policy is a function of its obsession with India, which it perceives as an existential threat. From an outside perspective, Pakistan’s paranoia regarding India is unfounded. While India may be unwilling to renegotiate Kashmir’s territorial status, numerous Indian leaders have tried to reach a modus vivendi with Pakistan.

Pakistan’s military has often disrupted nascent peace efforts pursued by Indian and Pakistani civilian rulers, most notably in 1999 during the Kargil conflict. The Pakistan military has been accused of facilitating the attack against India’s Pathankot air base last January that derailed the goodwill created by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore to meet with PM Sharif six days earlier. And Pakistan-backed militants have acted as spoilers numerous times when bilateral ties seemed to be warming.

American interests in the region are not served by Pakistan’s strategic thinking, which is fueled by the belief that India seeks to weaken and then dismantle Pakistan. Nor are American interests fully compatible with Pakistan’s desire to steer events in Afghanistan and counter any Indian role there. Continued U.S. assistance, offered in the hope of a gradual change in Pakistan’s terrorism policies, only provides Pakistan an economic cushion and better quality military equipment to persist with those policies.

Policy Recommendations

U.S. engagement with Pakistan must be based on a realistic appraisal of Pakistan’s policies, aspirations, and worldview. The U.S. must stop chasing the mirage of securing change in Pakistan’s strategic direction by giving it additional aid or military equipment. It must be acknowledged that Pakistan is unlikely to change its current policies through inducements alone.

The U.S. must also recognize that its efforts over several decades to strengthen Pakistan militarily have only encouraged those elements in Pakistan that hope someday to wrest Kashmir from India through force. Furthermore, the continued provision of military assistance leads many Pakistani leaders to conclude that (1) the U.S. needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs the U.S.; (2) the U.S. is not serious in its expressed concerns about Pakistan’s support for terrorism, lack of democracy, and disregard of human rights; and (3) Pakistan can continue its policy of minimally satisfying the U.S. to keep it on Pakistan’s side.

The Trump administration must be ready to adopt tougher measures toward Islamabad that involve taking risks in an effort to evoke different Pakistani responses. While there is no silver bullet to change decades of Pakistani policy, there are some policies that would improve chances of gaining Pakistan’s cooperation in dealing with terrorism in a vital region of the world.

Designating Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism, as some U.S. congressional members have advised, is unwise in the first year of a new administration, but should be kept as an option for the longer term. Indeed the administration should state up front that it intends to review the intelligence on Pakistani involvement in supporting terror much more critically than its predecessors.

Avoid viewing and portraying Pakistan as an ally. The new U.S. administration should recognize that Pakistan is not an American ally. It has engaged in supporting the Afghan Taliban, who have killed American troops and their allies in Afghanistan. Thinking of Pakistan as an ally will continue to create problems for the next administration as it did for the last one. At the same time, Pakistan is an important country that is willing to cooperate occasionally and partially with the United States. It cannot be treated, for example, in the same way the U.S. deals with North Korea. As a first step, the U.S. must warn Pakistan that its status as a Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) is in serious jeopardy. Unless Pakistan takes immediate steps to demonstrate that it fully shares U.S. counterterrorism objectives, the U.S. will revoke its MNNA status within six months.

At the same time, maintain the option for Pakistan to be an ally of the United States in the future. Were Pakistan to cease its current tolerance of and support to terrorist groups, one can envisage grounds for common interest and policies on a range of issues that would form the basis of mutual interest. This could involve a package of trade and investment cooperation that would be mutually win-win for the economies of the United States and Pakistan. Pakistan’s economy has strengths and significant potential, and a package that would include catalyzing U.S. private investment, joint activities between U.S. and Pakistani firms, and facilitating trade within the region through infrastructure development could be, if designed appropriately, a key building block of this alliance.

Prioritize engagement with Pakistan’s civilian leaders and continue humanitarian and social assistance programs that are administered by Pakistan’s civilian authorities. Rolling back the tide of extremism in Pakistan will be an enormous task and could take a generation, but once again there are some recent hopeful signs that the Pakistani civilian government under Prime Minister Sharif is trying to move the country in this direction. In March 2016 the Sharif government followed through with the execution of the assassin of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who was killed in 2011 because of his support for religious minorities and efforts to roll back controversial blasphemy laws. Prime Minister Sharif also recently re-named its National Center for Physics after a Nobel Prize-winning Pakistani physicist, Abdus Salam, a member of a minority sect of Islam that is considered heretic by hardline Islamists. These important first steps toward signaling a more moderate and tolerant course for Pakistani society must be recognized and encouraged by the international community. It is important, however, to monitor the overall trend and direction of Pakistani policy, given the track record of policy reversals.

Humanitarian and social aid should not be impacted by the counterterrorism issue since it is the military that controls policies toward terrorist groups. Programs such as International Military Education and Training (IMET) on the military side and the Fulbright Program as well as other exchange programs, on the civilian side, should be continued to build and maintain relationships with Pakistan’s military and civilian elite.

Work through diplomacy with other countries, especially China and Gulf Arab states that share U.S. concern about Pakistan’s tolerance of terrorist organizations and individuals. The U.S. must lead efforts, including at multilateral forums, to sanction Pakistani terrorist groups and individuals. In particular, Washington must seek to work more closely with China, which shares concerns about the presence of terrorist groups in the region and the threat they pose to the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). While China will avoid steps that embarrass Pakistani leaders or that significantly skew the two countries’ historically close ties, Beijing may be willing to work with Washington behind the scenes to press Pakistan to crack down on terrorists within its territory. Gulf Arab countries, too, must be encouraged to press Pakistan to change its direction.

The U.S. can also work with partners to emphasize the potential for Pakistan’s international isolation as a consequence of Pakistan’s own decisions and actions. Both history and recent events demonstrate that the Pakistan Government is deeply aware of and anxious about its international image. Threatening to damage that image in subtle or obvious ways will garner attention in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

Enforce counterterrorism conditions on U.S. military aid and reimbursements to Pakistan. Even though counterterrorism conditions on military aid have been in place for the last seven years, the Obama administration for several years used its national security waiver authority to bypass the legislative conditions. However, Congress over the last two years has included in the National Defense Authorization Act language that prohibits a portion of military reimbursement payments for Pakistan from falling under waiver authority. Thus, for the first time, this past summer the Obama administration withheld $300 million in military reimbursements for Pakistan because of its failure to crack down on the Haqqani network. In addition Congress blocked U.S. Government funding for the transfer of additional F-16 aircraft to Islamabad for the same reason.

It no longer makes sense to waive the counterterrorism conditions on U.S. aid to Pakistan. The U.S. can and must better leverage U.S. military aid to encourage tougher policies against terrorists who operate from within Pakistan. While a grace period may have been merited for Pakistan seven years ago, it would be foolish to keep giving the Pakistanis a pass when it comes to taking action against terrorist groups that are directly undermining U.S. regional interests, not to mention killing U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Whereas U.S. government agencies were divided seven years ago over the nature and extent of Pakistan’s support to the Afghan Taliban and other terrorist and extremist groups, today no one in the U.S. government disputes that Pakistan provides such support.

Keep the option of using unilateral action (including drones) to target Taliban targets in Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban safe havens in Quetta and elsewhere should no longer be safe. This does not require a campaign on the scale of that against al-Qaida from 2009-2012, but it should be more than the one-off attack against Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour in 2016.

Lay out a sequence and timeline for specific actions Pakistan must take with regard to terrorists responsible for attacks outside Pakistan and link these steps to future U.S. military assistance. An important benchmark should be for Pakistan to arrest and keep in jail known terrorist leaders. In April 2015, Pakistan released from jail the ringleader of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, a decision it should be asked to reverse. Other steps should involve closing down terror training camps and disrupting financing of terror activities. Additionally, the U.S. must demand that Pakistan stem infiltration of militants across the Line of Control (LoC) that divides Kashmir. Militant infiltration into Indian-controlled territory dropped considerably when former President Pervez Musharraf was in power, especially from 2004-2007, demonstrating Pakistan has the ability to turn off the taps when it chooses to do so.

Present to Pakistan a list of calibrated actions for ending its support to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, and make clear that failure to make substantial progress on these steps could eventually result in Pakistan’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. The U.S. must convey its expectation that Pakistan will take steps that end support to the Taliban, such as preventing Taliban leaders from living and meeting in Pakistan and curtailing export of arms, explosives, and ammunition to the Taliban in Afghanistan. The U.S. must also demand deportation of all Afghan Taliban leaders in accordance with Pakistan’s declared policy of returning all Afghan refugees. In addition, Pakistan must invalidate all Pakistani ID cards, passports, and special passes for the Taliban to prevent them from easily passing through military checkpoints. Lastly, Islamabad must seize the financial assets and real estate holdings of all Afghan Taliban and Pakistani terrorist groups that support them.

If Pakistan does not make progress on the above steps, the U.S. should consider compiling a list of Pakistani military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) officials, current and former, who are known to have facilitated acts of terrorism — including supporting the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network) — and barring them from travel to the U.S.

Pursue Taliban reconciliation talks on a track separate from U.S. and NATO troop-level decisions and levy consequences on Pakistan if it poses obstacles to such peace efforts. Washington should remain open to attempts to restart Taliban talks with the Afghan government, but should not plan its strategy around this long-shot scenario. It is likely the Taliban will try to convince the international community that they are willing to negotiate, in order to influence decision-making on troop levels in Afghanistan by the new Trump administration. Although Prime Minister Sharif’s government has helped to bring Taliban leaders to the negotiating table, Pakistan’s intelligence services at times also have played spoiler when it feared that Afghan Taliban interlocutors could not be trusted to represent Pakistan’s interests. There should be consequences for Pakistan if it blocks realistic efforts to begin peace talks.

Seek to avoid a complete breakdown in U.S.-Pakistan relations. The U.S. cannot achieve its counterterrorism objectives in Pakistan so long as Islamabad tolerates those terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan and India. Yet it also is not in the U.S. interest to make an enemy out of Pakistan without fresh efforts to change Pakistani behavior.

Designating Pakistan a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” early in the Trump administration, as some in Congress have recommended, would preclude the U.S. from providing any kind of aid to Pakistan and would lead to an irreparable breach in the relationship. While Pakistan frequently does not behave like an ally, it does selectively cooperate with the U.S. If Pakistan’s overall conduct does not change, however, the U.S. should be prepared to review whether Pakistan fits the criteria for designation as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” in accordance with the graduated measures proposed above.


After 15 years of the U.S. pursuing engagement and providing significant aid to the country, Pakistan has not altered its support for certain terrorist groups. We have seen the limits of relying mainly on inducements to encourage greater cooperation. Moving forward, the U.S. should develop a framework for pragmatic engagement with Pakistan that includes normal trade ties, identifies and rewards areas of cooperation, and penalizes policies that undermine U.S. interests.

A firmer U.S. commitment to remain engaged in helping Afghans achieve a stable and peaceful state and society is critical to motivating Pakistan to reassess the support it has given to the Taliban and its allies over these many years. The wavering level of commitment to Afghanistan by previous administrations, together with timelines for withdrawal based largely on U.S. domestic political considerations, has undoubtedly contributed to Pakistan’s hedging its bets in Afghanistan by supporting the Taliban and its allies.

With India-Pakistan tensions also on the rise, the Trump administration must formulate a new policy approach toward Pakistan quickly. Both Indian and Pakistani officials have ratcheted up their rhetoric toward the other in recent weeks, and neither shows much interest in reviving dialogue. Another major terrorist attack in India conducted by Pakistan-based militants could precipitate a wider conflict that has the potential of going nuclear.

After years of restraint in the face of Pakistani terrorist provocations, the Modi government has laid down a new marker that it will not stand by in the face of such attacks. India’s September 28-29 cross-LoC (Line of Control) strikes against terrorist bases on Pakistani territory were welcomed as a catharsis by the Indian public, whose frustration with Pakistan had reached a tipping point.

The new U.S. administration must be prepared for the possibility of an escalation in India-Pakistan tensions and plan ahead for how it would intervene to defuse any potential military crisis between the nuclear-armed rivals. It would be helpful for Trump administration officials to examine the U.S. role in helping to defuse past India-Pakistan crises, like the 1999 Kargil border conflict and the 2001-2002 India-Pakistan military stand-off. In both cases, the U.S. took a firm stance against Pakistani support for anti-India militant groups and resisted Pakistani calls for the U.S. to play a mediator role in Kashmir. In this way, the U.S. sent a clear signal that it held Islamabad responsible for the escalating regional tensions.

With decreasing U.S. military aid to Pakistan, Pakistani leaders will seek to strengthen ties to traditional allies like China and Saudi Arabia and also explore new partnerships as with Russia. Fortunately, these nations share the U.S. goal of containing terrorism in the region and preventing India-Pakistan hostilities and may be cooperative with the U.S., especially in crisis circumstances. In any case, Washington’s policy should not be constrained by fear that other countries will displace the U.S. role in Pakistan.

For too long, the U.S. has given Pakistan a pass on its support for some terrorist groups based in Pakistan, including those used against India. The U.S. squandered a valuable opportunity in the aftermath of 9/11 and the 2001-2002 India-Pakistani military crisis to alter the Pakistani military’s fundamental calculations on the use of terrorism for foreign policy ends. Pakistan has long insisted that it is unable to meet U.S. counterterrorism demands in any but the long term. Pakistani officials have privately argued that local terrorist groups such as Jaish-e-Muhammad or Lashkar-e-Taiba are too powerful and pervasive for the military establishment to challenge now. The U.S. should no longer settle for Pakistan’s excuses for delaying a full-throttle crackdown on these terrorist groups and should instead hold Pakistan accountable for the activities of all terrorist groups on its soil.

The U.S. should no longer sacrifice its anti-terrorism principles in the region for the sake of pursuing an “even-handed” South Asia policy, but rather should levy costs on Pakistan for policies that help perpetuate terrorism in the region. In particular, U.S. officials must break the habit of trying to balance policies toward India and Pakistan and should instead pursue shared mutual interests with each. At the same time, the U.S. should be modest about its ability to bridge what divides India and Pakistan.

Convincing Pakistan to give up its terrorist proxies may require a basic change in Islamabad’s regional security calculus. This is indeed a tall order that may in the end fail. But given the stakes for the global fight against terrorism and regional conflict, it is a goal well worth the new administration’s pursuing.

Source: Husain Haqqani of the Hudson Institute and Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation. Image courtesy Zee News.

The original article can be found here.

Preparing a Smooth Transition for the Repeal of Obamacare

It is vital that the new Administration, Congress, and state officials orchestrate a smooth and methodical transition for the repeal of Obamacare. For this smooth transition to take place, Congress should act immediately to initiate repeal and the Administration should take aggressive administrative actions to stabilize the private market for the upcoming 2018 plan cycle. The Administration, Congress, and the states should then coordinate efforts to begin the process to have a set of reforms in place for the 2019 plan cycle.

Setting a Strategic Timeline

The timing is crucial with respect to provisions affecting private insurance markets. For 2017, insurance plans are already set, and the 2017 annual enrollment period will still be underway as the new Congress and Administration take office. At the same time, insurers will be preparing their 2018 plan offerings, which they will need to finalize by May 2017.

With respect to the legislative timing, the sequencing is also crucial. Some budget experts have suggested that Congress could take a two-budgets/two-reconciliations approach to enacting repeal-and-replace legislation.[1]

The first step would be for Congress to pass a budget for fiscal year (FY) 2017, followed by an FY 2017 reconciliation package that repeals the major budgetary components of Obamacare. The second step would be for Congress to pass a budget for FY 2018, again followed by an FY 2018 reconciliation package that enacts a set of replace components.

To ensure a smooth transition between repeal and replacement, Congress (as it did in a previous version of reconciliation) could set the effective dates of provisions so that key elements of current law (such as subsidies) do not expire before their replacement components are in place.

What Should Be Done

The following recommendations can help guide the new Administration, Congress, and state officials through this complex process to ensure a seamless and successful repeal of Obamacare:

Maximize the reconciliation process for repeal. Last year, Congress passed (and President Obama vetoed) a reconciliation package that repealed the major budgetary provisions of Obamacare. Specifically, it repealed the various tax provisions, ended the individual and employer mandates, and sunset the subsidies for exchange and Medicaid coverage at the end of two years.[2] Although vetoed by President Obama, this effort provided a solid road map for a future repeal.

This time, Congress should go further and push to include the costly insurance mandates in the reconciliation package: specifically, the age rating, essential benefits, and actuarial value limitations. These specific regulations have driven up the cost of premiums by as much as 44 percent for young adults and 7 percent for pre-retirees.[3] In addition, it is essential to establish—either through reconciliation or through other legislation—more sensible rules on preexisting condition exclusions in order to restrict the “gaming the system” behaviors that also have played a large role in driving up premiums under Obamacare.[4]

Execute an aggressive regulatory rollback. While only Congress can make the necessary statutory changes, the new Administration can support and encourage those legislative efforts by aggressively rolling back many of the regulations implementing Obamacare.[5] Rolling back and loosening the regulations would help to stabilize markets in 2017 and 2018 and offer consumers tangible evidence that relief is on the way.

Equally important, it would signal the new direction in health care reform to insurers, employers, and other stakeholders and give health plans clearer guidance in developing their offerings for the 2018 plan year. If Congress is able to move legislation repealing some or all of the costly insurance mandates and restore more stable market rules faster than regulatory rollback, so much the better.

Accelerate state-level action to restore authority over health insurance markets. With the repeal of Obamacare imminent, states should act in their 2017 legislative sessions to have replacement market rules ready to take effect upon repeal. As they prepare to reclaim authority over the regulation of their health insurance markets, rather than simply returning to the pre-Obamacare status quo, states should develop a package of alternative insurance reforms. Most urgently, they should review their benefit mandates, rating rules, and other regulatory barriers to ensure that these regulations do not raise the cost of coverage, do not limit choice, do not drive down competition, and do not hamper innovation.[6]

With regard to the Medicaid expansion, those states that expanded Medicaid will have to consider adjustments to accommodate elimination of the enhanced federal match rate. States could either continue the coverage for these able-bodied adults under the traditional match rate, with the possibility of receiving greater flexibility through the traditional waiver process, or consider a state-only alternative that would not be tethered to the statutory restrictions in the Medicaid program and would enable the states to define and design health care arrangements as they see fit.

Begin the process for replacement. The new Administration and Congress will have to begin the legislative process for replacement in 2017. There are various legislative proposals that capture the essence of replacement, but they must now work their way through the legislative process for consideration. The goal should be to have the legislation completed by the end of 2017 so that the Administration can begin the regulation and implementation phase in 2018 for the 2019 plan year.

Congress should tackle equalizing the tax treatment of health insurance for those who are with and without employer-based coverage, develop common insurance market reforms, and modernize both the Medicare and Medicaid programs to facilitate greater choice and competition.[7] Such reforms need not be presented in one comprehensive legislative package (as Obamacare was) but could instead be a set of reforms to be advanced prudently through the legislative process.


Timing and sequencing of these efforts are complex, and proper execution is critical. Congress, the new Administration, and the states should work together both to ensure a smooth transition for the repeal of Obamacare and to create a path toward a more patient-centered, market-based approach to reforming the health care system.

Source: Nina Owcharenko and Edmund F. Haislmaier of the Heritage Foundation. Image via Daily Signal.

A full list of sources can be found here.


After Attack on Indian Army, U.S. Response to Crisis Must Focus on Pakistani Support of Terror

On Sunday [September 18th], four militants attacked an Indian army post in Uri near the Line of Control (LoC) that divides Pakistani and Indian Kashmir, killing 18 Indian soldiers and provoking a crisis between the two nuclear-armed states. The U.S. must pressure Pakistan to take concrete steps to rein in terrorist groups, such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), that operate freely on its soil. (The Indian government is blaming Pakistan-based militants for Sunday’s attack.)

The U.S. should also condition military assistance to Pakistan on its success in cracking down on both groups and call on Indian and Pakistani officials to tone down their rhetoric against each other and refrain from making references to developments in territory under the other’s control. The latter is especially important during the current U.N. General Assembly.

The U.S. has no role to play in mediating a solution to the current civil unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir, but it does have an interest in preventing military escalation between the two nuclear-armed foes.

Brewing Tensions
Sunday’s attack is the culmination of months of heightening tensions between India and Pakistan, and marks the most deadly attack against Indian security forces in over two decades. In 2002, a terrorist attack on an Indian army post in Jammu that killed over 30 (mostly family members of Indian army officials), nearly led to war between Pakistan and India. Just nine months ago, the Pakistan-based JeM attacked an Indian air base at Pathankot. The Pathankot attack occurred six days after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise goodwill visit to Pakistan, and appeared to signal the Pakistan military’s opposition to the civilian-led peace talks.

The Uri attack also follows over two months of civil unrest in Kashmir, sparked by the killing of a well-known Kashmiri militant leader, Burhan Wani, by Indian security forces. The unrest has claimed the lives of nearly 85 Kashmiris, and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had planned to highlight the regional tension and take India to task for human rights abuses in his upcoming speech to the U.N. General Assembly scheduled for Wednesday.

Indian leaders have been criticized for heavy-handed tactics against the Kashmiri protestors, including the security forces’ reliance on steel-pellet guns that have resulted in widespread and serious injury. A Kashmiri member of parliament, Tariq Karra, resigned his seat last Thursday, citing opposition to “civilian killings in Kashmir” and the government’s “heavy-handed” approach.

Meanwhile, Pakistan, despite its efforts to portray itself as the protector of Kashmiri human rights, has been more intent on stoking violence in the region to bleed India and embarrass it on the international stage. Islamabad also has disrupted several attempts by Kashmiri separatists to forge peace with New Delhi. It is widely believed, for instance, that Pakistani intelligence murdered separatist leader Abdul Ghani Lone in 2002 for his attempts to reach an understanding with New Delhi.

Prime Minister Modi Under Pressure to Retaliate for Uri Attack
Prime Minister Modi is under pressure to respond to the Uri attack by retaliating against Pakistan in some way. Modi had already upped the ante with Pakistan for its interference in Kashmir when he raised the issue of human rights abuses in Pakistan’s Balochistan province during his Indian Independence Day speech last month. Ajit Kumar, India’s ambassador and permanent representative to the U.N., repeated concerns about human rights in Balochistan last week, marking the first time New Delhi has raised the Baloch issue at the U.N.

Some within the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party are calling for a military response. But Prime Minister Modi would have to weigh carefully the pros and cons of escalating military tensions with Pakistan at a time when he is getting high marks for his foreign policy and for putting India on the map as a global power. India has considered targeted military strikes on terrorist training camps inside Pakistani-administered Kashmir in the past, action that would almost certainly put the two sides on war footing. Other Indian strategists are calling instead for a stronger diplomatic campaign to isolate Pakistan internationally for its continued support for terrorists that attack in both India and Afghanistan.

U.S. Policy Recommendations
Given the stakes involved in escalating tensions between two nuclear-armed foes, the U.S. must show that it is willing to go beyond the standard call for Indo–Pakistani dialogue and take an active role in defusing tensions. Washington must:

  • Insist that Pakistan take concrete measures to rein in terror groups that operate on its soil. Hawkish elements in India must be given reason to believe that a restrained military response will bring diplomatic benefits, such as increased international pressure on Islamabad to crack down on groups like the LeT and JeM. Pakistan’s failure to prosecute the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks nearly eight years after the fact undermines its current claims of not supporting cross-border terrorism. If the Pakistanis want to establish credibility on this point, they must take action against those terrorists known to be involved in past attacks.
  • Condition future military aid to Pakistan on its success in reining in the LeT and JeM, just as the U.S. Congress has conditioned some of its military aid on Pakistan cracking down on groups that attack Afghanistan. Benchmarks for future military aid should include Pakistan re-arresting Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged ringleader of the 2008 Mumbai attacks who was released from a Pakistani jail last year, and preventing LeT leader Hafiz Sayeed from making public appearances.
  • Call on both sides to rein in their rhetoric against the other and to stop making references to developments in territory under the other’s control. U.S. officials should strongly discourage Pakistani and Indian officials from talking about either Kashmir or Balochistan at the U.N. General Assembly, as a way to help defuse overall tensions.

As the November 8 U.S. presidential election approaches and Washington prepares to go into lame-duck mode, the U.S. must remain focused on developments in South Asia and alert to the probability for heightened Indo–Pakistani tensions. The 2008 Mumbai attacks occurred just weeks after the U.S. presidential election and required robust behind-the-scenes U.S. engagement to prevent the two sides from climbing the escalation ladder.

Washington must be clear that Sunday’s attack on an Indian army post has put the ball squarely in Pakistan’s court to take immediate steps aimed at de-escalating the current crisis.

Source: Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation. Image via Yahoo! News.


Legacy of Obama’s Foreign Policy in the Middle East

Legacy of Obama’s Foreign Policy in the Middle East

As the second innings of Barack Obama draws to a close, the American foreign policy is facing a critical test of legitimacy.
The belief in US exceptionalism– American indispensability for ensuring stability of its trusted allies and its preponderance to prevent the outbreak of conflicts and sustain peace – is being questioned as the Middle East faces its worst turmoil in many decades. The increased deployment of forces has had drastic effects, and the human and monetary costs of such long drawn conflicts have tested the patience of the US population like never before. It would not be wrong to surmise that in the Primaries campaign to the US Presidential Election 2016, both outsider candidates to the ruling regimes – Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders– capitalised on the growing antagonism towards the ruling establishment. They further reiterate how hard choices need to be taken in foreign diplomacy in the Middle East.

Miscalculations in the Middle East?

Barack Obama’s 2009 Nobel Peace Prize (awarded for his stated goals than counting on his accomplishments) legacy is now characterised by the image of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh. Ironically, it is the latest sign of horror from war-torn Syria.
The US is portending its retreat from the spoils of the wars it unleashed in the region and this decision shows the implications of its disastrous schemes over the past decade. It warrants an analysis of the legacy of Obama–Biden foreign policy vis-à-vis the Middle East. The winter of 2009 witnessed the first African American to occupy the White House. The promise of change ushered by Obama, however, coincided with a phase of the US economy experiencing its worst recession and the setbacks of a war weary foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Though it cannot be overruled that Obama inherited a chaotic foreign policy from George W. Bush Jr, the same reason is being brandished repeatedly to cover up the diplomatic miscalculations.

Faulty intelligence reports and intolerance towards the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein combined with the liberal institutional dream to restore peace and stability through democratic rule resulted in the entire Iraq fiasco. The war, which was thought to be easily won by the top security hawks, became a haunting spectre for Obama with implications till date. The announcement of withdrawal of operations in Iraq by 2012 showed the first signs of retreat. The security vacuum that followed and the negligence towards the rise of sectarian elements led to the growth and transformation of the ISIS into a global threat, aggravated the Syrian humanitarian crisis and made the US a mute spectator of Iranian attempts to subdue Iraq by backing the puppet government of Nouri-al-Maliki, besides adding up the toll of proxy wars in the region.

If the US foreign policy regrets succumbing to the pressures of NATO-led western coalition to intervene in Libya, it is primarily because of the costly disaster it conceived. Libya was the first experiment of the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) formed under the aegis of Pentagon in 2008 for military intervention in the African continent. With the Libya International Assistance Mission still in its nascent stages, the resultant delay in restoring order and legitimacy in the country and the reluctance of European powers to get involved further, add pressure to the US to broker a solution, lest the nation may become another breeding ground for splinter groups to take charge.

The Libyan quagmire would have been the reason for the cautiousness in Syria. The ongoing Syrian civil war has reduced Syria to a protracted chessboard, where major powers, supporting and opposing the Assad regime, have negotiated settlement as an answer to end the strife, without devising the required means to this end. Latest estimates state that the war has killed or injured 11.5% of the Syrian population.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action forged with Iran in 2015 to ease nuclear- sanctions is perceived with suspicion by the hawks in foreign policy discourse and Gulf sheikdoms. As the Iranian deal would be judged by the progress in its implementation, the US will need to channelize Iranian support in the troubled region through a strategy of restraint rather than pressure. Simultaneously, securing the fears of its allies must not be at the cost of supporting proxy war in the region. Often allies court such conflicts under the belief of US support in such interventions. On expected lines, the silent backing of the US to the Yemeni crisis against the Houthi rebels, supported by Shia Iran, is turning out to be the next drawback for US actions in the region.

The latest to join the fray in the Syrian civil war is the Turkey-led Operation Euphrates Shield. Subsequent to the failed military coup in Turkey (a NATO ally), the US–Turkey relations have hit a rough patch due to the speculated involvement of the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gullen (living in exile in the US since 1999) in instigating the coup and the measured support of the US to the Erdogan government during the coup.

In a swift turn of events, the Russo-Turkish rapprochement has rung the alarm bells. The US is fighting hard to maintain a balance in the Syrian civil war between its allies – the rebel faction (Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF] led by Kurd militias and supported by the US Special Forces) and the recent Turkish military offensive (that leads the US-backed Free Syrian Army), for whom countering Assad or ISIS is only secondary, whilst the real intention is to keep the Kurd militias off its Syrian borders. The initial US calls of support for Turkey and its attempts to convince the Kurd militias to accede to the Turkish demands are now followed by similar calls to Turkey to restrain from its actions against SDF.

Time is not far for the US to reconsider the pros and cons of such interventions and balancing actions before falling victim to miscalculated adventures to secure friendship and alliance in the region.

Source: Vinny Davis of CPPR. Image via National Review.