In his first tweet of the year, US President Donald Trump has accused Pakistan of providing safe havens to terrorist organisations and of repeatedly deceiving American leaders.
Trump believes that his country has given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years, but the latter has provided nothing but “lies and deceit”. These comments show Trump’s blinkered view of reality and the appalling ignorance of Pakistan’s supportive role in the war on terror in the post-9/11 period.
Over the past year, Trump has earned a great deal of disapproval for his chaotic foreign policy and a largely unvarnished view of international politics. Showing no understanding of the complexities of inter-state relations, Trump has repeatedly broken the legal rules governing diplomatic negotiations with impunity. Worst of all, if Trump does not tone down his outright belligerence, he might push the world to the brink of a nuclear war.
Many mainstream media outlets in the US have criticised Trump for his inability to behave like a great leader on the world stage. USA Today, one of the most widely circulated newspapers in America, recently said in its editorial that Donald Trump is even “unfit to … shine George W Bush’s shoes”.
Trump’s approval rating has hit an historical low. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, almost 59 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Trump is handling his job as president. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the US president is consistently seeking to aggravate international crises to shore up his internal position. Given that he has remained quite unsuccessful so far, Trump has chosen to open a new front in his war against the Muslim world. But the US needs to understand that Pakistan cannot bow down to coercion and unconditionally protect America’s interests in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s armed forces are already engaged in a fierce war against the Pakistani Taliban and other terrorist organisations that are operating on our soil with India’s covert support. A sustainable relationship between Pakistan and the US can only be based on the pursuit of the mutual interests of both countries. It’s time for the US to do more and twist India’s arms by persuading the Modi government to stop aiding terrorist groups that are spreading instability in Pakistan.
Many senior US officials have repeatedly claimed in the past few years that they have completely destroyed Al-Qaeda’s ability to launch terrorist attacks against the US. But they have conveniently forgotten that this became possible only because of effective counterterrorism measures taken by Pakistan. The US could not eliminate Al-Qaeda’s core leadership without receiving support from Pakistan’s military intelligence agencies. It is a matter of common knowledge now that Pakistani authorities apprehended many senior Al-Qaeda operatives in the years following 9/11 and handed them over to America. Pakistan’s economy has suffered losses worth more than $100 billion ever since it became a part of the US-led war against terror. Over 70,000 people in our country have lost their lives. But the US remains insistent on pinning the entire blame on Pakistan for the failure of its counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan.
After 9/11, the US invaded Afghanistan without any comprehensive plan to fill the political vacuum that was going to be left after the Taliban regime was dismantled. Both the Bush and Obama administrations chose to collaborate with corrupt militias and warlords, lining their pockets with taxpayers’ dollars in the rebuilding efforts that gradually gave rise to popular resistance among Afghanistan’s population. More importantly, the US failed in Afghanistan because of a huge gap between its ambitious goals – which included creating an effective democratic government in Kabul – and the actual efforts it put in to achieve these goals.
The American public has become war-weary. But the conflict continues to drag on. On the other hand, the Washington political establishment needs a scapegoat on whom it can put the blame for its embarrassing but predictable defeat in Afghanistan. And Pakistan is, in many ways, an ideal candidate for that.
After 16 years of failed policies, the Trump administration cannot turn the tide in the Afghan war by coercing the neighbouring countries into cooperation. During his visit to the US in 2010, Pakistan’s then-army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, delivered a detailed paper to the White House that explained his views on how to resolve different lingering problems in the relations between Pakistan and the US. In his paper, General Kayani said: “You are not going to win the war, and you are not going to transform Afghanistan… Stop your grandiose plans and let’s get practical, sit down, and discuss how you will leave, and what is an end state we can both live with”. However, the Obama administration did not pay much attention to General Kayani’s advice and continued with its massive waste of blood and treasure in Afghanistan.
A political solution to the Afghan conflict can only be found by engaging with Pakistan. It is such an incredibly weak and ludicrous argument that the world’s leading military force has failed to defeat the Taliban because Pakistan was unwilling to take action against certain Afghan Taliban groups. The US should address Pakistan’s legitimate strategic concerns and minimise India’s counterproductive role in Afghanistan. The Trump administration can build a strong and enduring relationship with Pakistan only by acknowledging our efforts in combating terrorism. By refusing to do so, the US is behaving like an ungrateful friend that has far too many high and unrealistic expectations.
What the Trump administration must not forget is that the US needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs the US. In order to stabilise Afghanistan, the US will have to engineer a successful regional solution and the sooner Donald Trump realises it, the better.