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Opinion

Shahzad Chaudhry
January 5, 2018

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Trumping logic

Trumping logic

On New Year’s Day, Pakistan and its self-styled ‘commentariat’ went crazy with a Trump tweet. Uninitiated into logical scenario-building and fed on only social media, these experts sounded a death-knell.

With least understanding of the American administration and its policy arms and with an even poorer understanding of how Trump conducts business, they raised the sky with forebodings that there was to be no tomorrow, literally. When an attempt was made to envision a practical enactment of the implied threat, there was none. Experts cried, “A tweet is not a policy” and a Trump tweet is never policy, it is an impulse; these self-styled intellectuals went on and on till the evening was out.

There are two kinds of such people: one, imbued with a hate-US sentiment, who earnestly await the next faux pa in the long US-Pakistan relationship and then latch on to how Uncle Tom and its lackeys need to be thumb-nosed and told off. With nations like Germany, England, Turkey, Iran, Russia, North Korea and Iran already in defiance of Trump’s idiosyncratic assertions, their case against the US may seem well merited. Except that international relationships are far more complex. A common past beckons each back to unfinished business. See how India and Russia simply cannot break off, despite India’s stronger fling with the US as the new reality. US-Pakistan ties have other compulsions and we shall get to those soon. But this is about the commentariat and their predilection.

The second kind is more suave. Loudly liberal, this set of the ‘intelligentsia’ is patently anti-military regardless of the military’s disposition at any given time. Second, the state has become a euphemism for the military in popular discourse – touted by these liberals to be the perennially non-democratic, illiberal, conservative, scheming side of the state which employs and uses non-state actors and is given to the badly abused notions of strategic depth in Afghanistan or perpetuation of enmity with India. So when the state gets trashed, be it through a Trump tweet or a domestic event such as the Faizabad dharna – where the state is proclaimed by this set to be complicit – it becomes a moment of sadistic celebration.

So they trashed the state side of Pakistan, the military, invoking its libellous past and its adventurous ways; an endless maligning made possible by the Trump tweet. This group has also used Nawaz Sharif’s removal by the courts to impute a conspiratorial hand of the military to malign it further. In a country among whose intelligentsia and upper crust liberals ‘patriotism’ is a dirty word, there is little surprise on how the Trump tweet was celebrated as ‘See, I told you’ intellectualism.

And now to the tweet. We are weak at conception and possible hypothesisation, only revelling in the fringes and making up for the rest with noise. But imagine, it is the morning of the New Year, (remember, the tweet was timed around 7am Eastern Time in the US) and President Trump – on a holiday to his Florida resort – wakes up to some early homework. And a piece of information turns up in advanced reading while preparing for his coming State of the Union address. He reads reports of the Pakistani ‘state’ and government hierarchy reiterating that it has done enough and will do ‘no more’. Repeated quite often in recent weeks, this ‘no more’ mantra from a lowly Pakistan irks him somewhat and he has an impulse. ‘We’ve done much to help Pakistan in terms of financial support over the course of the on-going Afghan war, and here they are thumbing their nose at us, telling us to go do something else’. His first response, ‘no more money to Pakistan’, and the $255 million which too must have found mention in a cable or a report due to Pakistan under the head of Coalition Support charges suddenly seems his first actionable part of revising the nature of relationship. Possible? It also could have been a more deliberate part of a process to be put in place after the holiday break.

Let’s be clear, for all the love that we may profess for each other, the US and Pakistan are beholden by two material determinants: the need for each other, which is a geostrategic determinant and hence transient, and the transactional follow-up which is almost a given whenever they have needed to cosy up. And as Trump mulls those options, he fires a tweet off. Not that it may not exactly play out as it says in the tweet, still it isn’t yet a slam-dunk deal. He simply seeks a more quiescent Pakistan through such pressure. Like the one which should hand over some militants to the CIA rather than work together on them. Do not forget the embarrassment that the UN vote on Palestine caused Trump and his UN ambassador, and their promise to not forget it. What better than to conflate the perceived omissions in one stroke for the SOTU and put the errant on notice.

And now to the response. First, all of Pakistan went mad. Why? We have that established. The morning after was a lot more rational even as the papers beamed the madness of the evening before. Some gloated with meaningful headlines to show the state in a bad light while others took up the cudgels on the state’s behalf to teach an imperious power another lesson from Vietnam. Between such polarity, the real work began. The action to call the US ambassador and seek some explanations and express disappointment was the right beginning. The security apparatus of the country met at different forums and were far more pragmatic about their response.

Pakistan planned to place before the world a very transparent comparison of what the US had provided in the domain of aid, CSF and other military aid to enable provision of military equipment to Pakistan, and what had Pakistan helped the US to achieve. Just in the last seventeen years the US attained control of Afghanistan after defeating the Taliban, eliminated Al-Qaeda, and has been able to retain its centrality in the region – all based around logistics support enabled by Pakistan. Consider the $33 billion support, not all aid, that Trump counts against the almost $1 trillion expended in and on Afghanistan in the same war and in the same period, and notice the substantial difference in outcomes in each war. Pakistan has practically won its war except for sporadic occurrences while Afghanistan continues to be afflicted by 40 percent of its area outside its remit.

Any good in Afghanistan and the region will come only through a cooperative effort between the three nations of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US. Of that there should be little doubt. A lot has gone wrong in this war on all sides. It is time to take stock and come clean on the real intentions in Afghanistan. Till then this war may only be fought in the shadows which will only perpetuate turmoil. Unless that is an undeclared and unfortunate end, it is time to stop tweeting and getting around to talking. A 7:20am tweet by someone who just can’t keep his fingers off the keypad should not cloud better judgment.

Email: [email protected]

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