Trump’s diatribe against Pakistan
One day some enterprising soul imbued with the idea of making a lot of money will collate the tweets of President Donald J. Trump in the shape of a book. It is not only possible but quite probable that like the latest book on Trump, Fire and Fury by the American journalist Michael Wolff – (which is flying across the shelves) the book of tweets will get a similar warm reception. Interestingly the American writer Kurt Anderson has recently penned a fascinating book captioned Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire – A 500-Year History that according to reviewer Javed Amir, “explains how the United States landed itself with a President Donald Trump. Post-truth. Alternative facts. Bunk. Humbug. Hoaxes, hogwash, post-facts and fake news…Like Alice in Wonderland, we have passed through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole. America has mutated into Fantasyland.”
Since last August Trump has trained his guns on Pakistan using increasingly threatening language about a major non-NATO ally’s alleged duplicity in supporting the Afghan Taliban, in America’s seventeen year old war in Afghanistan. Trump had recently dispatched two senior US officials namely Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis to Islamabad to urge Pakistan to “do more” in curbing the Afghan Taliban’s attacks from Pakistani “sanctuaries” on the Ghani-led government in Kabul. These attacks has also led to casualties among the 13,000 American soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. The American officials had suggested to Pakistani officials that the Afghan Taliban would debouch from sanctuaries across the Pakistan border to attack Afghanistan. On its part Pakistani leaders denied that it was supporting the Afghan Taliban, that there were no sanctuaries in Pakistan and that on the contrary, Pakistan had played the leading role degrading terrorists of all stripes including the Haqqani network. The latter has been flagged by the Americans as the chief threat to the security and stability of the Afghan government.
It seems that the trust deficit between Washington and Islamabad has continued not only to loom between the two ostensible allies, but has widened after Trump’s January 1 tweet. Trump alleged that the US had supported Pakistan from 2001 financially to the tune of $33 billion and had been rewarded by “lies and deceit” of the Pakistan government. The US would therefore desist from any more financial assistance to Pakistan. The above undiplomatic and unstatesmanlike tweet has been followed by a cutoff of practically all US military assistance to Pakistan running annually to hundreds of millions of dollars. The US officials have however held out the possibility that this aid could be restored to Pakistan if it stops providing support to the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban who destabilize the Afghan government. The Pakistani response to these hammer blows from Washington has been measured. Islamabad has wisely not resorted to strong language against the United States. It has reiterated that the international community has recognized and lauded Pakistan’s role as a frontline country against terrorism perpetrated by all groups.
Now admittedly Pakistan is not a perfect country and its leadership has admitted that it has made mistakes in the past. I believe this reference to a large extent, is to the previous governments hewing to the US Afghan policy. The corollary to such action was the blowback faced by the Pakistan government from its enemies, the Pakistani Taliban and other assorted non- state actors which attacked Pakistan with a vengeance. The Pakistani government estimates that around 60-70 thousand Pakistanis were killed in bombings and suicide attacks perpetrated by the above groups. The total cost to the infrastructure and economy of Pakistan is estimated at around $125 billion. Thus it would be insensitive if not churlish, to not recognize Pakistan’s contribution to the international community’s efforts to root out violent extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
President Trump never fails to trumpet “America First” while conceding at the UN and elsewhere, that all 193 sovereign member states should do likewise. So in not kowtowing fully to the US diktat to “do more” the Pakistani military/civilian establishment is taking a leaf out of Trump’s playbook. Islamabad has moved against most of the violent extremists in the largely lawless frontier regions bordering Afghanistan, but it has spared some elements of the Afghan Taliban who, after the 2001 American invasion of Afghanistan, found shelter in neighboring Pakistan. US policy makers may or may not know or even may not care, that a significant minority of Pakistan’s population are of Pashtun ethnicity just like the Pashtun majority in neighboring Afghanistan. Can Pakistan take draconian measures against the Pashtun Taliban without inciting huge civil unrest in Pakistan?
The way forward between the US and Pakistan to ameliorate their relationship as suggested by a recent writer is to, inter alia, guarantee to the Afghan government that the Afghan Taliban will not use Pakistani territory to attack Afghanistan. The Afghan government on its part should issue similar guarantees to Islamabad that the former would not allow the Pakistani Taliban and other hostile anti- Pakistan groups residing in Afghanistan to launch attacks on Pakistani soil.
The hopeful news coming out is that Washington and Islamabad are continuing to talk to each other. There is anger in Pakistan at what its public considers as the infliction of unfair financial punishment. In this day and age one country no matter how powerful cannot impose “gunboat diplomacy” of the Victorian era on another. Pakistan and the United States will continue to cooperate in certain areas on Afghanistan, but will have divergent perspectives on others. Diplomacy and wisdom demand that the latter should not be permitted to capsize the entire relationship between the two allies to the detriment of both.