Opinion: Is the honeymoon between Pakistan and the US coming to an end?

Activists of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council shout anti-US slogans at a protest rally in Karachi on January 2. Photograph:( AFP )

New Delhi, Delhi, India Jan 04, 2018, 10.48 AM (IST) Vikas Khanna

It had to happen one day. Pakistan’s predicament reminds one of the famous statement of Abraham Lincoln: “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

And it took 15 years for a US President to realise that his country was being taken for a royal ride by none other than its strategic ally in the name of the so-called fight against terrorism.

''The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!,'' President Donald Trump tweeted, rattling Pakistan on the New Year day. 

The tweet sent shivers down the spine of Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership as they huddled to grasp its impact. Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was forced to advance a meeting of the National Security Committee by a day which was attended by top cabinet ministers and military chiefs. In all likelihood, the National Security Committee met at the instance of the army chief as army generals had met separately before the all-powerful meeting. At the end of the three-hour-long meeting, the committee came out with a terse statement shying away from commenting on Trump’s tweet. The statement released by the prime minister’s office expressed “deep disappointment” at comments made by US officials over the past few months.

“Recent statements and articulation by the American leadership were completely incomprehensible as they contradicted facts manifestly, struck with great insensitivity at the trust between two nations built over generations, and negated the decades of sacrifices made by the Pakistani nation,” it said.

Earlier, Pakistan foreign office summoned U.S. ambassador David Hale and sought his explanation behind Trump’s angry tweet.

Pakistan has been on the boil since the storm caused by Trump tweet battered the country. Anti-Trump protests have engulfed almost the entire Pakistan with several political religious groups taking out rallies. Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan too joined the issue by saying that Pakistan lost 70,000 lives and $100,000 billion due to the US war on terror. Khan, who once tormented the best of the batsmen in the world during his playing days, seems pretty weak on mathematics as the figure of monetary loss quoted by him is beyond the realms of possibility.

The US put the screws on Pakistan by announcing the next day of Trump tweet that it would continue to withhold military aid worth $255 million to its former strategic ally. The statement from the National Security Council spokesman was equally lethal. "The President has made clear that the United States expects Pakistan to take decisive action against terrorists and militants on its soil, and that Pakistan's actions in support of the South Asia strategy will ultimately determine the trajectory of our relationship, including future security assistance."

It appears that the Trump tweet storm is unlikely to die down soon and more is in the offing for Pakistan. The statements from US officials are self-explanatory.  Following up on Trump’s tweet, the White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders accused Pakistan of playing a “double game” on fighting terrorism and said: “They can do more to stop terrorism and we want them to do that.” Earlier, the U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said at the United Nations that “They work with us at times, and they also harbor the terrorists that attack our troops in Afghanistan.” At the State Department on Tuesday, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Pakistan knew what it needed to do, including taking action against the Haqqani network and other militants. Pakistan needs to “earn, essentially, the money that we have provided in the past in foreign military assistance,” she said.

The writing on the wall was clear since Trump assumed the presidency of the United States in January last. Even before becoming the president, Trump had been dropping enough hints, but Pakistan failed to read the messages which were not only explosive by explicit as well. The rhetoric was soon replaced with stern warnings after Trump assumed power. But Pakistan continued to live in a fool’s paradise that the US could not bypass it as long as its forces remained engaged in Afghanistan. 

Afghanistan is proving to be a political liability for the US. If it stays longer, it faces strong backlash back home and if it withdraws, the country will fall to the Taliban.  It’s a classical case of entering a blind alley but not knowing how to come out of it. Whatever may be its political designs, the US has been sucked badly into a country where exit routes are not easy and not too many. Already the US has lost 2,300 of its men. And it has cost the US more than 110 billion dollars since its forces first landed in Afghanistan in October 2001. The US has been fuming over Pakistan’s alleged support for Haqqani network militants, who are allied with the Afghan Taliban. Afghanistan has time and again resented the presence of Afghan Taliban fighters in Pakistan who carry out deadly attacks in the war-torn country and return to the safe sanctuaries there. Whatever may be the political compulsions in the past, the new administration has realized that the Afghanistan war can’t be won as long as Pakistan continues with its support to the Taliban and Haqqani groups.

In fact, the US patience had started thinning since it found that the most-wanted terrorist and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was being provided a safe sanctuary by Pakistan in the garrison town of Abbottabad. Pakistan should have smelt a rat when the US special commandos smoked out Laden in 2011 in an operation kept secret from the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif government.  To add insult to injury, the then-Taliban leader Mullah Mansour was killed by a U.S. drone strike inside Pakistan five years later. No self-respecting nation can allow its territory to be breached in a manner as the US did. But Pakistan was forced to digest this humiliation, not once, but twice. But the lure of dollars far outweighed the heap of ignominy.

It remains to be seen whether the Trump tweet will bully Pakistan into changing its policy and withdraw support to the militant groups. Otherwise, as things stand today, the honeymoon between the US and Pakistan seems all over and it is a matter of time when the divorce will be formalised. 

 

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL).

Vikas Khanna

Vikas Khanna is a journalist and columnist. Currently, he is a guest faculty at Indian Institute of Mass Communication.