By Samuel Baid
US President Donald Trump’s blow-hot-blow-cold policy towards his country’s past most allied ally, Pakistan, reflects his administration’s acute dilemma about it. The US longstanding demand is that Pakistan stop giving safe havens to the Haqqani network and other terrorists. After Trump became the US President this demand has often been accompanied with a hinted threat of US unilateral military action against these havens. There is a perception in Pakistan that Trump’s leadership is officiated by diplomatic chaos.
Equipped with stock replies and faith in China’s faithfulness, Pakistan seems to mock at this demand and threat. Its stock replies are: after the Zarb-i-Azb operation the Haqqani Network (HN) has shifted to Afghanistan – in the areas recaptured by the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan has made sacrifices fighting terrorists like no other country has done and it is itself a victim of terrorism. To try to make the US feel guilty, Pakistan accuses the US of holding up funds promised to Rawalpindi for fighting terrorism and as a result Pakistan has suffered great economic losses. It says it has lost thousands of security men and citizens in this fight.
Pakistan’s latest reply on the HN is that it has moved out to Afghanistan and if the US has any evidence of its presence in Pakistan then it should share it with Pakistan. Prior to his election to the White House, Donald Trump indeed very harshly accused Pakistan of harbouring terrorists. An impression was created that if he was elected President there would be a drastic change in Pak-US relations. Elected he was, but despite all the huffing and puffing it is very evident that the US is trying to reignite the Cold War days of warmth in its relations with Pakistan. The emerging Sino-Russia bloc against the US and the aggressive manner in which China is trying to become a world leader sustain Pakistan’s value for the US. Pakistan is already close to China and now it has been trying part of the Sino-Russia alliance. The US, which has spent billions of dollars in the past more than six decades, will try to keep Pakistan as a friend at any cost change in terrorism and Afghan policies?
Pakistan was among the first countries whose leaders Trump contacted on telephone after being elected President. He described former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as a wonderful man and offered his help. This was surprising in view of his Pakistan-bashing during his election campaign.
Trump blow hot on August 21, 2017 when he announced his Afghanistan and South Asia policy. He blasted Pakistan “which often gives safe havens to agents of chaos, violence and terror”. By saying “which often gives safe havens…..” the President seems to give the benefit of doubt to Pakistan. The fact is that since the 1980s when the Pakistani ISI learnt the lesson of cross-border terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy from the American CIA, Pakistan has never looked back. After the end of the Afghan war in 1988, Pakistan launched terrorism against India in Kashmir with no holds barred. India’s protests were ignored by the US and European nations till 9/11 when the US itself became a victim of terrorism that had links to Pakistan. Since the 1980s Pakistan has never stopped giving safe havens to terrorists. It looks President Trump used the word “often” as a safety valve. The Trump Administration talked of expanding cooperation with Pakistan where the two countries interests converge.
The name of safe havens in Pakistan figured again the National Security Strategy (NSS) which President Trump unveiled on December 18. He said: “We will press Pakistan to intensify its counter-terrorism efforts, since no partnership can survive a country’s support for militants and terrorists who target a partners own service members and officials ….. The US will also encourage Pakistan to continue demonstrating that it is responsible steward of its nuclear assets”. He told Pakistan that it is obliged to help the US because of the massive payments it has been receiving from it. In past 15 years it has received about 33 billion dollars.
In this NSS, Pakistan stood third on the ladder of the US perception of sources of global threats. The first was China, “which represents a repressive vision of the world order and which is using economic inducement and penalties, influence operations and implied military threats to persuade other states to heed its political and security agenda”. Russia was also mentioned as a rising threat. On the second rung stood “rogue governments” like North Korea and Iran.
About India he said: “We welcome India’s emergence as leading global power and stronger strategic and defence partner”. Whenever the US asks Islamabad to stop patronising Afghanistan and India-specific terrorists and asks India to play a bigger role in Afghanistan, there is an emotional outburst in Pakistan calling for cutting off relations with the US and stop taking aid from it. This outburst happened when President Trump announced his Afghanistan and South Asia policy on August 21.
A leading Pakistani defence expert Ayesha Siddiqa told the Urdu BBC that America aid was not a big issue. The issue is that Pakistan owes billions of dollars to world’s lending agencies. Pakistan can invite trouble for itself if it borrows from China to repay this loan. As far US repeated demands to close down the HN, Siddiqa said Pakistan is ready to give any sacrifices for the network. Pakistan, she said, had formulated its Afghan policy on the basis of former President Barrack Obama’s schedule of troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. But now, under President Trump this policy has changed.
As was expected the Pakistan would rejected the allegations as underscored in the US NSS of December, 2017 saying they ‘trivialise’ its counter-terrorism efforts and sacrifices to promote peace in the region. The Pakistan Foreign Office (FO) described the US demands that it should intensify action against militants operating from its soil, as unsubstantial and unfounded allegations. The FO said Pakistan’s cooperation had led to the decimation of Al Qaeda in the region. It complained the Afghan soil is being used against Pakistan despite substantial US presence in Afghanistan. The FO also lamented what it called US efforts to prop India as a regional power. It added this status should be given on the basis of constructive contributions. Inter-services Public Relations (ISPR) Chief Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor claimed Pakistan did not fight the war on terror for money. The tone and tenor of Pakistani reactions is an echo of the FO– the same effort to tell lies about harbouring of cross-border terrorists as a policy matter.
President Trump’s new Afghanistan and South Asia policy of August and the NSS of December and Pakistan’s reaction to them clearly show that despite their mutual grouses the two countries are not worked up enough to snap their Cold War period love affair despite Pakistan going deep into China’s lap. Though we regularly hear from Washington that the US administration of the day and the US Congress would stop or withheld aids subject to Pakistan’s compliance of dismantling terror networks on its soil, on the eve of 2018, it seems the same plot would be enacted this year which would only re-establish the US blow-hot-blow-cold policy towards Pakistan.