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August 13, 2018

Frozen out


August 13, 2018

Piece-by-piece, US President Donald Trump has been dismantling his country’s relationship with Pakistan. He began last August when announcing his new Afghan security policy, where Pakistan was blasted for not doing enough to tackle the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, and India was invited to further involve itself in the country. A series of critical tweets followed at the start of the year, leading to the cancellation of $1.15 billion in security assistance. Reports earlier this month that Pakistan may be seeking a fresh bailout from the IMF prompted US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to warn that this money should not be used to pay off loans to China. Meanwhile, the National Defence Authorisation Act passed by the US Congress capped security aid to Pakistan at $150 million.

Now, in a fresh snub, the US has effectively suspended Pakistan from the International Military Education and Training programme, which has provided training and education to our soldiers for more than a decade. As a practical matter, this exclusion will have little effect on Pakistan’s military readiness but it does end any hope of improvement in relations between the two countries. Engagement of this kind is crucial in keeping the channels of communication open and fostering understanding. That will no longer be possible as long as the Trump administration keeps freezing us out.

If there is any silver lining to be found, it is that Pakistan’s dependence on the US – and the demands that places on us – is now at an end. The $150 million a year the US will be giving Pakistan does not afford it any leverage over us on matters of policy. Following US dictates in the war on terror has brought militancy to our land and hurt our economy by many multiples of any aid we were given. Breaking free of US shackles will allow Pakistan to move closer to China and pursue closer relations with important countries like Russia, Turkey and Iran. We should still try to maintain cordial ties with the US. It is still the largest power in the world and Pakistan has a constructive role to play in bringing the US and the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. The country can now do this from a position of relative strength without fearing the repercussions of angering the US. Whatever short-term fixes US aid provided, in the long run falling into the trap of dependence is unhealthy for a nation. Now that we are free of that, it is time to move forward and seek an equitable relationship with the US.

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