The stage is set for a confrontation of sorts between the two erstwhile allies -- the US and Pakistan
As expected, Pakistan has rejected allegations by the US about the existence of safe havens for terrorists on its soil.
It has reiterated its resolve not to allow terrorists to use Pakistan’s territory for launching attacks against any country. Besides, it has alleged that safe havens for anti-Pakistan terrorists were present in eastern Afghanistan even though President Donald Trump made no mention of this fact in his much-awaited speech based on a seven-month long review of America’s Afghan policy.
Pakistan’s civil and military officials had earlier made offers to the US to identify the safe havens for the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network that in their view existed in Pakistan so that these could be jointly inspected, verified, and dismantled. The same offer could be made to Afghanistan provided it agrees to allowing inspection of places in its eastern provinces where Pakistan suspects the existence of safe havens for the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its allied groups, such as Jamaatul Ahrar, Lashkar-i-Islam and also the Islamic State, or Daesh as it is commonly known.
With President Donald Trump in an unprecedented manner publicly criticising Pakistan for harbouring terrorists and Pakistan issuing a denial after a meeting of its National Security Council having representation of both civil and military high command and terming it a false narrative, the stage is set for a confrontation of sorts between the two erstwhile allies.
For years Pakistan and the US were partners in anti-USSR and anti-communism military pacts and allies in the Afghan jihad against the Soviet occupying forces in Afghanistan. Presently, they have an antagonistic relationship as the US has in recent years moved closer to India and Pakistan is making efforts to build a new alliance with old friend China and the new-found acquaintance, Russia.
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Trump had different messages for Afghanistan, Pakistan and India in his hard-hitting speech but the starkest message was delivered to Islamabad.
Though it wasn’t as direct as President George W Bush’s message in which he had told Pakistan soon after the 9/11 attacks to decide whether it was with or against the US in the war against terrorism, Trump’s warning was nevertheless significant. He told Pakistan that it has much to gain by taking action against terrorists and a lot to lose by harbouring them. Without mincing words, he accused Pakistan of providing safe havens to terrorists and sheltering those who attack US forces in Afghanistan.
It was clear the Trump administration had refused to accept Islamabad’s plea that there are no safe havens for the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network in Pakistan. The US also didn’t buy Islamabad’s argument that Afghanistan-based Pakistani Taliban and Baloch militants backed by the Afghan and Indian intelligence agencies were attacking and destabilising Pakistan.
Instead, Trump provoked Pakistan by asking India to play a bigger role in Afghanistan through economic development by spending more than it is already doing. It was a negation of Pakistan’s argument that increased Indian involvement in Afghanistan would be a source of instability in the region and a hurdle in bringing the long Afghan conflict to an end.
As Trump confidently said that Pakistan’s policy would change soon in the wake of his warning, it appears that he has plans to arm-twist Islamabad to accept the US demands. Eventually, the US could take away Pakistan’s status as a non-Nato ally to deny it certain privileges.
The US could curtail and even halt economic and military assistance to Pakistan, though the increasingly hostile US Congress had already taken certain steps towards this end, particularly by stopping the payment of money Washington owed to Islamabad under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) and reducing payments to Pakistan for keeping suspected CIA agent Dr Shakeel Afridi in custody.
There has also been talk of imposing economic sanctions against Pakistan even though such a policy hasn’t worked in case of a number of countries, including Iran, Iraq, North Korea, etc.
Trump’s hint about the need to ensure that nuclear weapons don’t fall into the hands of terrorists was also aimed at Pakistan. It was an attempt to portray Pakistan as an insecure state that was incapable of protecting its nuclear assets. Rather reluctantly, he praised Pakistan as a valued partner in the war against terrorism before reading out a charge-sheet against it and reminding it about the billions and billions of US dollars paid to it for tasks that weren’t accomplished.
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For the record though, it needs to be remembered that Pakistan received about $14.50 billion from the US since 2001 following America’s invasion of Afghanistan with full military and intelligence support by Islamabad. And in comparison, Pakistan claims to have suffered losses of $120 billion during this period due to its partnership with the US in the war against terrorism. This is besides the losses Pakistan sustained by hosting Afghan refugees for an extended period, the influx of drugs and arms into Pakistan and the political, social, and economic fallout of the Afghanistan conflict.
Pakistan is expected to highlight the futility of finding a military solution of the 16-year old Afghan issue as mentioned by Trump at the end of his jingoistic speech and instead call for shared efforts by all stakeholders to search for a negotiated political settlement with the Taliban. With Trump seeking an elusive military victory in Afghanistan against the Taliban and deciding to stop investing in nation-building in war-ravaged Afghanistan even though this is the need of the hour to give the war-wearing Afghans some hope for the future.
Being a businessman, President Donald Trump often talks in terms of money and he did this even in his policy speech on Afghanistan and South Asia. He ridiculed Pakistan by reminding it that the US paid it billions and billions of dollars without getting much in return. Afghanistan was told that it would no longer get a blank cheque as it needed to carry out real reforms to improve governance, tackle corruption, and stand on its own feet. India, too, was asked to spend more in Afghanistan for economic development from the billions of dollars it was making from trade with the US.
In fact, sections of the US media have reported that one of the reasons Trump had decided to stay militarily engaged in Afghanistan instead of withdrawing US troops as promised by him in his election campaign was the prospect of American companies making money by getting contracts to exploit the mineral resources lying buried in northern and southern parts of the country. For that to happen, he would have to make Afghanistan stable and peaceful, but this is unlikely to happen by using more force in an open-ended war.