Lest we forget, the year 2018 started with a tweet from United States (US) President Donald Trump, stating “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”
Besides what it did for US-Pakistan relations and opinion within Pakistan this tweet kicked off the ‘new’ Afghanistan and South Asia policy as US administration officials scrambled to salvage the relationship with Pakistan and give substance to the Presidents’ tweet by forging a strategy and a policy.
Nine months later, with the Taliban on the ascendant in Afghanistan, President Trump has fired off another salvo against Pakistan and said, “They took him down but — look, there’s news right there, he lived in Pakistan, we’re supporting Pakistan, we’re giving them $1.3 billion a year, which we don’t give them any more, by the way, I ended it because they don’t do anything for us, they don’t do a damn thing for us.”
Prime Minister Imran Khan responded to Trump’s tirade against Pakistan by hinting at a review of foreign policy options and asking the US president to introspect on the real reasons for America’s failure in Afghanistan.
He called Trump’s remark “patently ridiculous” and his promptly tweeted full response has found resonance within Pakistan.
Responses to tweets need to be especially carefully considered — more so when President Trump is the tweeter. But then there is the macho factor in leadership especially if you are being criticised at home for making “U-turns” in policies and for caving in against the demands by rioters.
President Trumps’ tweets need to be seen in the context of the controversies he has created. Here are some examples;
“European diplomats mount last-ditch effort to stop US scrapping INF treaty. 1987 treaty has kept nuclear weapons out of Europe. Trump announced withdrawal from the deal with Russia in October.”
“The Trump administration announced Monday it is reactivating economic sanctions on Iran that were lifted as part of the landmark multinational nuclear accord — a tough move that may nonetheless leave the US more isolated. The action follows up on President Donald Trump’s unilateral decision in May to withdraw from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action negotiated by the Obama administration to lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for a freeze on its nuclear programme. European nations, Russia and China had opposed re-imposition of Iran sanctions, announcing a ‘blocking statute’ to shield EU operators to recover damages and ban EU persons from complying with the sanctions”
“Trump also drew criticism for his decision not to visit Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day last week, following his trip to Europe”.
In the past, Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency worked in close collaboration with the CIA to end the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Much before that, Pakistan had provided base facilities to US surveillance aircraft overflying Soviet airspace. Then, Pakistan facilitated US initial contact with China. After the US ‘war on terror’ was unleashed, Pakistan captured and handed over the Al-Qaeda leadership that had fled to Pakistan.
Later, Pakistan supported the coalition operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban and was designated “a major non-NATO ally”.
The bulk of the funds that the US gave to Pakistan were “coalition support” funds. There can be no compensation for the sacrifices made by Pakistan in lives and the blow-back that it faced and continues to face from Afghanistan.
Ground and Air LOCs were provided by Pakistan for NATO logistic support at the cost of damage to its infrastructure—these continue to be operative today. The Pakistan military is one of the very few militaries in the world that has successfully sidelined the terrorist threat within the country and secured its borders.
It continues to combat the hybrid warfare threat being waged against it from across its western border and is acting to contain and sideline extremism and militancy. Pakistan has been supportive of every effort to bring peace and stability in Afghanistan and has taken discernible action to support the initiative of the US Special Envoy — Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.
Pakistan is part of the ‘Russian Format’ initiative as well as Chinese efforts. Where Pakistan has drawn the line is at antagonising forces with whom the US is negotiating and who may be part of the future governance structure in Afghanistan. To ask Pakistan to forego its security concerns in an uncertain and evolving environment is perhaps asking too much.
All this cannot be encapsulated in the spur of the moment tweets that are tweeted in desperation and impatience when flawed policies are not delivering the results expected. Just before Trump’s tweet, his experienced envoy, Ambassador Khalilzad, had buoyed hopes by his optimism.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent statement to the effect that “U-turns” are a hallmark of leadership is being discussed from many angles. One interpretation could be he meant that policies that have run their course or failed to deliver need to be abandoned in favour of new realistic policies.
Pakistan values its relationship with the US despite the tweets and other hiccups, but Pakistan has options in a multi-polar world. Pakistan’s trade relationship with the US is significant and important for Pakistan.
USAID is doing great work in Pakistan. The Pentagon and Pakistan’s military have a long association of working together as have the diplomats of both countries. Pakistan has taken in its stride the cessation of aid, the freeze on CSF funds due to Pakistan and denial of facilities under the US IMET programme.
Pakistanis have access to US educational facilities and the country uses a variety of US military equipment. Restraint and the maturity to rise above transient divergences should guide policy reset considerations – both in the US and Pakistan.
Spearhead analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to an individual.