By Zahid Hussain
The US president Donald Trump has gained notoriety for using twitter to announce his administration’s policies. Therefore, it did not come as surprise when he began his new year with a tweet accusing Pakistan of giving Washington “nothing but lies and deceit”. He warned Pakistan of ominous consequences, without stipulating what actions his administration is considering against Islamabad.
Even though Trump predictably sounded crude, but there is nothing new in his latest statement that has not been said by the US administration in the past. It is simple an indication of the relations between the two countries reaching the verge of collapse.
Pakistan’s response to this tweet was equally concise. “We will soon show the world the difference between facts and fiction,” foreign minister Khawaja Asif responded in a tweet. He also rejected the US demand of “do more” as bizarre.
The tweet also comes on the back of tense bilateral situation and dialogue after the US President announced his administration’s latest National Security Strategy. While announcing the controversial policy, the US President declared that he was putting Pakistan on “notice” to fulfil its “obligation” to help America, as Islamabad received big payments from the United States.
It seems that Trump’s diatribe seems to have made Islamabad more defiant and brought a rare unity among the political parties in condemning the US policy. Indeed, the relations between the two countries have been estranged for many years, however they have now reached the point of hostility.
Also, over the past few months, there has been flurry of visits of senior Trump administration officers to Islamabad to find common ground for the two countries to cooperate in fighting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. But they have failed to remove the hurdles. The more recent was the visit of US Secretary of Defence James Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford last month.
Days before the visit, the US Congress dropped a provision that linked reimbursements to Pakistan with a demonstrable action against Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Predictably, Pakistani authorities welcomed the move. But the pressure on Islamabad to take action against the Haqqani network seems to have intensified.
The Haqqani network, the fiercest faction of the Afghan Taliban insurgent militia, is alleged to be operating from its base along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Last week, the US withheld half of the $700 million disbursement to Pakistan for deploying forces along this border. The withheld amount, Washington argues, will only be given only when Pakistan shows considerable action against the militants.
It is also now clear that the Trump administration is considering withholding $255 million from a fund meant to provide military training and equipment to Pakistan, adding to already existing cuts on reimbursements. Pakistan has, time and again, strongly rejected the allegations of Afghan insurgents using its soil for cross-border attacks, and accuses Washington of scapegoating Pakistan for its failure in Afghanistan.
The Trump administration has also intensified drone strikes, as a sort of warning, targeting the insurgents along the Pak-Afghan border. The latest visits of American officials and cut in aid failed to mend the fences. It is now quite evident that such arm-twisting and threats by the US President would not help win Pakistan’s full cooperation. The situation makes it difficult to gain any leverage in Afghanistan and the region, especially with tense ties with Pakistan and Islamabad looking for new regional partners.
One major factor for Pakistan rejecting the American pressure is Islamabad’s growing strategic relations with China. China was also the first country to come out in Islamabad’s support after Trump’s tweet. “Pakistan has made enormous efforts and sacrifice for the fight against terrorism and has made very outstanding contribution to the global cause of counter terrorism. The international community should acknowledge that,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said when asked about Trump’s criticism of Pakistan. “China and Pakistan are all weather partners. We stand ready to promote and deepen our all-round cooperation so as to bring benefits to the two sides,” Mr Geng further added.
The administration in Washington needs to consider that any incursion of the US forces on the pretext of hot pursuit of the Taliban insurgents into Pakistan or use of drone strikes in the mainland would have disastrous consequences for the entire region.
Zahid Hussain is a journalist and author in Pakistan
Original Source: The Print