By Dr. Hasan Haskari Rizvi
Known for using aggressive and non-diplomatic language in his speeches and statements, US President Donald Trump’s tirade took a turn for the worse when he made disparaging comments about Pakistan’s role in the US-led war on terrorism, recently.
He complained that despite America’s liberal economic assistance to Pakistan, the latter did not extend the requisite support for fighting terrorism in Afghanistan. Trump was also critical of Pakistan for being oblivious to Osama bin Laden hiding in the country and not being proactive enough in helping capture the terrorist prior to May 2011, when US security forces launched a secret security operation in Pakistan and killed him.
This is not the first time that Trump has raised strong objections to Pakistan’s counter-terrorism policies or accused Pakistan of providing “safe-havens” to the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani groups who targeted American soldiers based in Afghanistan.
President Trump’s anti-Pakistan rant — in an interview aired on November 19 — added to his harsh and negative criticism of Pakistan made during his first policy statement on Afghanistan in August 2017, and in his tweet on January 1 this year. There were subsequent statements by the US Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, reinforcing Trump’s statements and demanding that Pakistan should not allow its territory to be used by militant groups and that it must change its counterterrorism policy to the satisfaction of the US.
The history of active Pakistan-US relations can be traced back to the mid-1950s when Pakistan joined the US-sponsored regional alliances for the containment of the Soviet Union. As they did not completely share or divulge share each other’s foreign policy and security goals, the policy differences surfaced soon after, resulting in a mutual distrust from time to time. However, this was never as deep-seated as it has been ever since Trump assumed office in January 2017.
What hurts Pakistan most is the US’ official argument that Pakistan did not provide the requisite security support even after the US provided huge sums of aid. This creates the impression that the US views Pakistan as a mercenary state that ought to have provided the required support because Washington had paid for it.
Pakistan’s response to Trump’s statement was equally terse. It came from three sources — the Prime Minister, the Foreign Office and the Army Chief. All three took a strong exception to Trump’s statement and highlighted the contribution made by Pakistan in containing terrorism in and around Afghanistan. These statements underlined Pakistan’s human and material losses because of its participation in the US-led war on terror. Pakistan also drew American attention to the air and ground facilities it had provided to the US for conducting its military operations in Afghanistan since September 2001. Some of the air and ground transit facilities are still available to the US today.
Trump’s criticism of Pakistan builds political and economic pressure on Islamabad at a time when it is trying to obtain financial support from its allies and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to cope with its current economic predicament. Trump’s words, therefore, might discourage some countries from supporting Pakistan.
The US chooses to show Pakistan in a bad light in order to cover up its failures in Afghanistan. By doing this, it attempts to pacify domestic public opinion by blaming Pakistan for the difficulties it faces there.
The ongoing US-China economic confrontation is also affecting US’ policies towards Pakistan. Washington is opposed to China’s Belt and Road Initiative because it will enhance China’s global economic connectivity.
For this reason, the US is not favorably disposed toward the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It is not only keen to get all the details of the projects under the CPEC but also wants Pakistan to walk out of this arrangement or scale it down to restrict China’s access to the Gwadar port.
Washington’s negative disposition towards Pakistan encourages India and Afghanistan to adopt a strident posture towards Islamabad. As the US is not willing to accommodate Pakistan’s security concerns regarding these two countries, both New Delhi and Kabul are encouraged to pursue their own exclusive agendas toward Pakistan which in turn increases security pressure along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and the Line of Control in Kashmir.
The current estrangement in the US-Pakistan relations cannot be stalled without Washington giving up its policy of public denunciation of Islamabad. The latest bitterness is expected to haunt the bilateral interaction between the two countries for a long time to come.
(Dr. Hasan Askari Rizvi is a Pakistan-based political analyst. Twitter: @har132har)