President Donald Trump delivered remarks during a joint news conference May 18, 2017 in Washington, DC. A leading expert on South Asia has said that Trump must engage early with India to combat Pakistan-based terrorism. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

NEW YORK — A leading expert on Indian and Asian affairs has said that the Trump administration must engage early and openly with Indian leaders on the situation in Pakistan as dealing with the threat from Pakistan-based terrorist groups demands its attention in the first year.

Senior Fellow for India with the Asia Society Policy Institute Marshall Bouton said in a new paper on U.S.-India relations published May 18 that the administration should also "expand intelligence sharing and seek ways to defuse tensions." 

In the paper titled "The Trump Administration's India Opportunity, " he urged the administration to "engage early and openly with Indian leaders on the situation in Pakistan."

Bouton, a nationally-known expert on India and Asia, said President Donald Trump's foreign policy statements since entering the White House Jan. 20 have focused on U.S. relations with Europe and East Asia, but South Asia also presents multiple challenges for the United  States.

"What to do about the war in Afghanistan? How to deal with the threat of Pakistan-based terrorist groups, both to Pakistan itself and to other countries? How to minimize the danger of renewed conflict between Pakistan and India? All of these questions will demand the administration's attention in its first year," he said.

Bouton, the president emeritus of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, emphasized that the larger, longer-term South Asian challenge for Washington is the decades-long rivalry between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan and "the ever-present danger that, for a fifth time in 70 years, it could spiral into war." 

Further Bouton stressed that India, which for much of the last seven decades sought to limit U.S. involvement in its home region, is today a partner in the U.S. effort in Afghanistan and seeks U.S. support in dealing with the threat of provocations from an increasingly violence-ridden Pakistan.

"As the Trump administration determines how to move forward in South Asia, it would benefit from considering India’s views and taking advantage of its experience," said Bouton, who is also a senior fellow at the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania.

He also noted that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will "surely press" Trump to take a much firmer stance with Pakistan on terrorism than the United States has in the past.

"In particular, Modi will argue that Pakistan continues to permit anti-India groups to operate and supports them when they attack India. He will argue that only the threat of stronger sanctions such as sharp cuts to economic and military assistance and removal of Pakistan's designation as a major non-NATO ally might change its behavior," Bouton wrote in the paper.

If the U.S. role in Afghanistan diminishes further, India will look to the United States to move more forcefully, "perhaps even requesting that Pakistan be designated as a terrorist state." 

Bouton said a "dilemma" for Washington with respect to Afghanistan is how to deal with Pakistan's "double-dealing" throughout the war. Pakistan has provided transit and logistical support to U.S. and NATO forces, but it has also continued to resist acting against the Haqqani network and other terror groups that have opposed the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, cost American lives and prolonged the war.

"In Washington, particularly in Congress, patience with Pakistan's behavior has grown thin," he said.

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