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Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan in Kabul, Feb. 11. Photo: Sylvie Lanteaume/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. is ostentatiously promoting cooperation with India on ballistic missile defense, highlighting it in the 2019 Missile Defense Review as a “key element” of its Indo-Pacific strategy.

Why it matters: Pakistan is certain to see any such cooperation as a move against its nuclear force. Even though ballistic missile defense systems have nothing to do with the battlefield in Afghanistan, where the low-tech Taliban has forced the U.S. to the table, the move could threaten the U.S.-Taliban withdrawal negotiations by spurring Pakistan to reinforce its support for the group.

Background: Pakistan has provided safe haven and other support to Taliban forces fighting in Afghanistan. Given India’s massive conventional military — not to mention economic and demographic — advantages, Pakistani national security thinking rests on “asymmetric” forces, including terrorist proxies and nuclear weapons. If Pakistan’s military leaders fear that their nuclear deterrent is at risk, they will reinforce their terrorist proxies.

Between the lines: Pakistan’s aggressive approach to its security has left itself and its neighbors poorer and more violent. But that does not mean that Pakistan can be ignored.

  • While Pakistan’s control of the Taliban is often exaggerated by Afghan political elites seeking to minimize the civil nature of Afghanistan’s war, it can still provide safe haven and other support to dissatisfied Afghan groups, using them as proxies to undermine any peace deal if it thinks its interests — including the ongoing conflict with India — have not been taken into account.

What to watch: Navigating Afghan peace will require that the Trump administration not only stick to a clear message, but also prioritize the peace process when making decisions linked to the issue in complex, non-obvious ways. A deal with the Taliban that secures some important U.S. and Afghan interests remains possible, but not if the U.S. chooses unnecessary public confrontations with Pakistan on less urgent issues.

Jarrett Blanc is a senior fellow in the Geoeconomics and Strategy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Go deeper

4 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Anthony Coley to lead Justice Department public affairs

The U.S. Department of Justice building in Washington, D.C. Photo: Xinhua/Ting Shen via Getty Images

Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden’s nominee for attorney general, has tapped Anthony Coley, an Obama-era Treasury Department official, to serve as a senior adviser and lead public affairs at the Department of Justice, according to people familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: As the public face of the DOJ, Coley will help explain — and defend — the department's actions, from sensitive cases to prosecutorial decisions, including the investigation into Hunter Biden.

AP: Justice Dept. rescinds "zero tolerance" policy

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President Biden's acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson issued a memo on Tuesday to revoke the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, which separated thousands of migrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border, AP first reported.

Driving the news: A recent report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz emphasized the internal chaos at the agency over the implementation of the policy, which resulted in 545 parents separated from their children as of October 2020.

Biden picks up his pen to change the tone on racial equity

Vice President Harris looks on as President Biden signs executive orders related to his racial equity agenda. Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

President Biden is making a down payment on racial equity in a series of executive orders dealing with everything from private prisons to housing discrimination, treatment of Asian Americans and relations with indigenous tribes.

The big picture: Police reform and voting rights legislation will take time to pass in Congress. But with the stroke of his pen, one week into the job, Biden is taking steps within his power as he seeks to change the tone on racial justice from the Trump administration.