Trump’s Tweet

It was not aimed at Pakistan but was an indirect message of solidarity with India

Pravin Sawhney

President of the United States, Donald John Trump

The stoppage of USD 255 million military aid to Pakistan for 2018 within hours of US President Donald Trump’s tweet-threat to Pakistan is water off duck’s back. In 2010, the US military aid to Pakistan was USD1.24 billion; it came down dramatically in 2011 when Osama bin Laden was found and killed in Pakistan; and it was measly USD316 million in 2016. All this happened quietly through official channels. So, what was the Trump bluster about?

To be sure, we have not heard the last on US relations with Pakistan. There is no Afghanistan solution without Pakistan’s involvement. With China having accelerated its involvement with the recently held trilateral with Afghanistan and Pakistan, the US, if it severs functional ties with Pakistan, would be compelled to hand-over the Afghanistan trophy to China, leading to the realisation of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor’s (CPEC’s) extension to Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics. Moreover, once the Taliban come to power in Afghanistan – on their own or through power sharing with the Afghanistan regime – they are likely to accept the One Belt One Road (OBOR) on their territory. The US will not be there since the Taliban have repeatedly made the eviction of all foreign forces from Afghanistan their condition for peace.

The purpose of Trump’s tweet, therefore, was perhaps to demonstrate solidarity with India on Pakistan-backed terrorism with twin purpose. One, to encourage bilateral talks between India and Pakistan to reduce chances of nuclear war and arms race between them; and two, to ensure success in the coming two-plus-two dialogue between India and the US.

The theatrics of Trump’s action and Pakistan’s equally strong reaction might have appeared credible if the two sides had not travelled this path before. After 9/11 attacks, when Pakistan was geopolitically unimportant, US President George Bush’s deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage had warned General Pervez Musharraf to stop harbouring terrorists or be prepared to be bombed to Stone Age. Musharraf publicly acquiesced, yet managed to fool the US and world through his duplicitousness, in return garnering Major non-Nato Ally status for Pakistan.

In 1993, when Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto travelled to the US in what was hoped to be a major strategic deal for the US, her army chief, General Abdul Waheed pre-empted the visit by saying, “F-16s or no F-16s, Pakistan will not give up on its national security (nuclear weapons).”

Similarly, after India’s 1998 nuclear tests, when US deputy secretary of state, Strobe Talbott visited General Jehangir Karamat’s Headquarters in Rawalpindi to persuade him to not do nuclear tests, Karamat made it clear that “Pakistan would look out for its own defence.” Writing in his book, Engaging India, Talbott writes that Karamat cautioned him that arm-twisting Pakistan would not work.

Trump could not be oblivious of US’ roller-coaster relations with Pakistan, and the fact that the Pakistan Army would not compromise on three subjects: its nuclear weapons, Afghanistan, and Kashmir. Especially when Pakistan today is geopolitically in a strong position, with China certainly to veto any move by the US to place Pakistan under UN sanctions or have it declared as state sponsoring terrorism. By rejecting Trump’s charge of Pakistan’s ‘lies and deceit’ within hours, China has signalled the importance of Pakistan to OBOR.

As an aside, Pakistan’s astute former diplomat and now politician, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi has, commenting on the recent spat, expressed concern that Pakistan-China relations would become constrained if Pakistan continued to isolate itself globally. The reality might just be the opposite. China, which respects military power, could well be pleased with Pakistan’s terse rejoinder to the US.

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