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Trump’s challenge to Pakistan

Shahid M Amin
PRESIDENT Trump’s long-awaited statement on
Afghanistan and South Asia has angered Pakistani
public opinion for two main reasons. One, he has sought to intimidate Pakistan with warnings of unspecified action if Pakistan does not end sanctuaries on its soil from where terrorists allegedly carry out attacks on US/NATO forces in Afghanistan. Two, he has praised India’s role and asked it to extend more help to Afghanistan. Trump did make a passing reference to Pakistan’s sacrifices in the war against terror. However, he claimed that ‘billions of dollars’ had been given to Pakistan, but the latter had failed to act against the sanctuaries. Presumably, Trump intends to cut off such aid to Pakistan.
The Pakistan government has rejected the accusations made by Trump. It has rightly pointed out that no other country has suffered more from terrorism than Pakistan. Over 70,000 Pakistanis lost their lives and economic losses are over 120 billion dollars. In fact, there has been little direct US aid to Pakistan lately and the ‘billions of dollars’ mentioned by Trump were given to reimburse Pakistan for the cost of its military operations against terrorists. Trump’s uncalled for warnings to Pakistan remind one of this verse of Ghalib: “lo, wo bhi keh rahay hain yeh bay nang-o-nam hai/ yeh janta agar to lutata na ghar ko mein”(If I had known that my beloved would join others in accusing me of bad faith, I would not have squandered away everything that I possessed for her sake!) Pakistanis feel betrayed by Trump/USA. His statement is one-sided and inaccurate. No mention was made of sanctuaries on the Afghan side of the border from where terrorists carry out operations against Pakistan. No mention was made of the vital transit route through Pakistan that has served as a lifeline for US/NATO and even for the Kabul regime forces. No mention was made of the subversive activities in Pakistan being carried out by India, using Afghanistan as a base. And while praising India, Trump turned a blind eye towards the ongoing brutal suppression of Kashmiris by India that is taking place in defiance of all civilized norms, including UN Resolutions on Kashmir, flagrantly violating human rights that are so often espoused by USA. From Pakistan’s point of view, Trump’s policy statement shows a total lack of balance and is an affront to Pakistan’s national dignity.
Having said the above, let us not forget that foreign policy decisions must be based on hard-headed calculation of national interests, free from emotionalism and populist appeals. This is particularly applicable to Pakistan which is already facing many grave challenges at home and abroad. The hard reality is that we have political instability and our economy is not doing well. Exports are down, foreign exchange is falling, and balance of payment deficit is increasing. Terrorism remains a threat despite the success of military operations. Religious extremism including sectarianism shows no sign of abating. We continue to be bogged down by corruption, poor governance, illiteracy, disease, and overpopulation. Externally, Pakistan is at present relatively isolated, particularly in its neighbourhood. We are stuck with the stigma of terrorism that has become a serious handicap in conduct of our foreign relations. Under such circumstances, any serious deterioration in relations with USA would aggravate our problems and hurt our national interests. As a Super Power, the US has its tentacles all over, including in financial bodies like IMF, and even the Asian Development Bank, where we often turn for support. Our strong official and public reaction has already sent the message to Trump that Pakistan is a proud, nuclear-armed state that cannot be browbeaten. Pakistan is also not without foreign policy options. One obvious choice is to lean even more towards China and also build stronger ties with Russia, apart from our close Muslim friends like Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The successful implementation of CPEC projects is soon expected to make a qualitative improvement of Pakistan’s economy and give it a new strategic importance.

Losing a long-time friend like Pakistan and forcing it to look for a new strategic realignment, due to Trump’s own misguided policy, will hurt American global interests. In the context of Afghanistan also, most observers agree that Pakistan’s cooperation is indispensable for peace and security in that country. The US wants Pakistan to use its influence with Afghan Taliban for the peace process, but that can only be done if Washington does not hurt Pakistan’s national interests. If Trump uses economic aid as a pressure tactic, he should not forget that Pakistan can also deny the transit route for US/NATO forces operating in Afghanistan.
Diplomacy is the art of the possible. In a pragmatic spirit, both Pakistan and the US need to consider the nature of US grievances about Pakistan. Trump says that terrorists, notably the Haqqani network, enjoy sanctuaries in Pakistan to attack targets in Afghanistan. Pakistan denies this. This is not an insoluble issue. Pakistan can offer inspection by independent monitors to check the factual situation on the ground. The same must apply to terrorists who use Afghan sanctuaries to attack Pakistan. Moreover, the US has satellites and other sources of information to pinpoint the location of sanctuaries. Why does it not share that information with Pakistan? Clearly, the US does not have any tangible evidence; or else, it would have already used its drones to attack those targets. Thus, the accusations against Pakistan look like a mere ploy to explain away the US failure to defeat Afghan Taliban.

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