US President Donald Trump refuses financial aid to Pakistan, signalling a far more blunt and confrontationist approach than the past.
The tweet on the first day of the year by President Donald Trump reflects the growing frustration of the US administration in dealing with Pakistan on the issue of escalating violence in Afghanistan. It has been close to a year of the Trump administration and more than 16 years of US intervention, but the war in Afghanistan continues to rage. A resurgent Taliban and other proxies of Pakistan are targeting government forces far more viciously.
Words like ‘lies’ and ‘deceit’ are rarely used in diplomacy for any country. These are very strong words used by Trump against Pakistan. They signal a far more blunt and confrontationist approach than the past. It has been the trademark of his administration from its early days.
Everyone, even the previous US administrations, have known that Pakistan’s ISI pulls the strings of the Taliban. Various ways and means were employed by previous US governments to bring Pakistan around to using its influence on the Taliban, to come to the negotiating table, and hold back other proxies so that the Americans could declare victory at least in this theatre of conflict.
But Pakistan has been playing hardball on this issue, because it feels that India will now increase its influence there, much to its detriment. Pakistani ‘strategists’ have always thought that the use of the Taliban and other proxies in Afghanistan would deter Indian moves there. They have targeted Indian interests many times. Pakistan has also raised the issue of ‘Indian involvement’ in Afghanistan with the US.
At the same time, Pakistan would like the US to outsource the entire issue to itself, in order to effectively marginalise the role of India. But no US administration will do that.
Can any country believe what Pakistan says and promises? Certainly not the present US administration, and rightly so. Deceptions, denials and subterfuge are routinely employed, and successfully so, by Pakistan to wiggle out of all the promises it untiringly makes.
It is well known that the Taliban ‘Quetta Shura’ was based in Pakistan. The Haqqani network is also controlled by the Pakistani ISI. Mullah Omar died in Karachi, a fact kept secret by Pakistan’s ISI for many months. The Taliban leadership continues to seek guidance from the ISI, and its leaders keep travelling to Pakistan for rest, recuperation and safety.
Trump said on 1 January 2018 that the US has “foolishly” doled out more than $33 billion to Pakistan in aid the last 15 years for the fight against terror. “No more,” he said.
Money does matter to Pakistan. More than money, Pakistan wants to be seen as a responsible member of the international community, even as it continues to support terror groups that hurt American interests in Afghanistan – a contradiction that Pakistan is increasingly finding it difficult to sustain.
Pakistan wants the world to believe that it is a victim of terrorism, and showcases its fight against it. As a result of home-grown terrorists hurting Pakistani interests, it will remain compelled to take action against them. But Pakistan wants the US to reimburse the expenditure incurred in this fight –without addressing US concerns in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s bluff is now being called by the US. Withholding of reimbursements is the thin end of the wedge, or it can be seen as the first major step to hold Pakistan to its promises. Pakistan will have to find new and ingenious excuses to get out of the present crisis.
India has always warned against the US’ unquestioning belief in Pakistan’s commitment to fighting terrorism. All the governments in Afghanistan have eventually come to this conclusion after several efforts to work with Pakistan.
The stand taken by the US administration will warm the hearts of Indian security officials who have suffered immensely at the hands of Pakistan-sponsored violence.
Avinash Mohananey is a former IB officer who has served in the Indian High Commission in Islamabad.