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January 9, 2018

Trump’s tirade


January 9, 2018

So much for the outrage over how Washington has dealt with Pakistan after years of blood and toil – not to mention the heavy defence expenditures that we have incurred. The $33 billion that is being hurled at us is less of a rejoinder as is the accusation of “lies and deceit”.

Trump’s style is unlike any president anywhere. Call him illogical and uninformed or question his sanity, which is already being debated in his own country, the insult smarts. And yet again, we suffer another example of being at the receiving end of US expediency – this time at its theatrical best. But why should we be surprised?

The writing was on the wall. Prior warnings had been issued thick and fast. Even now, the carrot being dangled before us promises the resumption of the cursed military aid if we meet America’s expectations. But what are those expectations? Do they just relate to Afghanistan or does Washington want Pakistan to become a completely beleaguered satellite state, even as India is being propped up as the major strategic ally of the US? More worrisome is the deepening of India’s role in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s legitimate concerns about the Indian intelligence’s operations in Afghanistan, which are aimed at destabilisation across the Durand Line, have never been taken seriously by Washington. It is futile to hope that the Trump administration will demonstrate any acumen to probe this and address it accordingly.

If the idea is to isolate and weaken Pakistan by withholding financial assistance to the military and through international financial institutions like the IMF, then it is understandable. But if the aim is to end the Afghanistan conundrum, this strategy of coercion is not going to work.

Even if our state exchequer relies heavily on loans and the economic indicators do not bode well, we will be able to muster support from other quarters. What rankles Washington in particular is our relationship with China. The deepening economic relations between Pakistan and China – albeit lopsided – are a move away from dependency on America. And it’s about time.

The bigger question is: how committed is Washington to bring stability to the region? It is time the US realises that arm-twisting an ‘ally’ is not going to bring it the dividends it seeks. And blaming Pakistan entirely for the insurgency in Afghanistan is without doubt a serious failing. If Pakistan is protecting the Haqqani Network – which, according to America’s logic, is where the Afghan insurgency derives its strength from – what interest does Pakistan have in perpetuating the conflict across the border? When the operations in North Waziristan were undertaken, we were being lauded by the ISAF command as it deemed this strategy to be a vital step in minimising the Taliban and the Haqqani Network’s influence.

But the geo-dynamics of this region are incomprehensible for policymakers in Washington. The cross-border movement of insurgents is an important factor not just for Afghanistan but also for Pakistan. The indigenous TTP movement, with links to organisations in Afghanistan, is a case in point. Everybody is aware that Pakistan’s military has been engaged in various operations to eliminate terrorists in the border areas. Any operation that was undertaken in the border agencies naturally led to insurgents spreading out and going across to Afghanistan. Many TTP fighters, some members of the Punjabi Taliban and even a few Daesh affiliates have found recourse across the border in the same way that the Afghan insurgents find refuge in Pakistan.

It is a dynamic process that is far more complicated than simply crossing the border. The ethnic-tribal links, strengthened by organisational links and an affiliation to the common cause of resisting the occupying forces as the US/Nato forces are considered to be, are the unpalatable truth. By securing the border, Pakistan has taken an essential step in reducing this considerably.

Insurgent cross-border movement and activities on either side cannot be eliminated once and for all by a massive operation. What most people forget is that as long as the motivation for insurgency remains, there will be sympathisers and fighters. Instead of berating Pakistan, it is time that the assistance of our offices is sought to bring a political solution to the insurgency in Afghanistan. Unless there is some sort of understanding within the Afghan factions through negotiation, there can be no peace.

What Pakistan must do is reiterate its commitment to regional peace and security. More importantly, it should undertake a comprehensive review of its strategy in dealing with groups that threaten peace at home. It must also make every effort to salvage relations with Kabul that have suffered considerably owing to the constant blame game.

But we must learn to stand on our own feet. And this is where the positive side of Trump’s decision to cut military aid to Pakistan comes in. How long can we bear the shame of being treated in the way that we have unfortunately become accustomed to? Is it not time to cast aside the begging bowl and stand proud and tall?

The writer was a former deputy opinion editor at Gulf News, Dubai.

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