At last, some plain speaking by the American President. In his first tweet of the new year, President Trump rebuked Pakistan, threatening to cut off aid. He wrote: “The US has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the 15 years, and they have given us lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” Even while making allowance for Trump’s free-wheeling tweeting, the stern warning to Pakistan, a long-time ally, cannot be easily brushed aside.
Despite the recent inward shift in her foreign policy, the US continues to be, by far, the most powerful nation in the world. Though in recent years, China has begun to buy influence in countries as diverse as Nigeria and Pakistan, the latter cannot hope to get away. Therefore, notwithstanding the bluff and bluster emanating from Islamabad following Trump’s no-nonsense warning, Pakistan will have to take steps to assuage the US. The double-crossing by the ISI, which runs with the hares of the US-led NATO troops and hunts with the Taliban hounds may no longer be glossed over by Washington. In fact, Trump does no one a favour.
It is normal to expect good behavior from the recipients of aid. Pakistan has gobbled up tens of billions of dollars ostensibly to aid the Americans in the fight against the forces of barbarism in that godforsaken land since the 9/11 atrocity of 2001. Indeed, any other president, other than Obama, would have felt obliged to go all out and expose the double-facedness of the fat-cat generals in the Rawalpindi GHQ, when Osama Bin Laden was found in a safe house in a military cantonment in Pakistan in 2011. Obama bought into the fiction that the world’s most wanted terrorist with a bounty of $25 million on his head was holed up with his full complement of wives, children and grandchildren next to the military mess.
Obama was wrong in believing that the Pakistani zebra will change its terrorist stripes. It did not. And it continues to be the most dangerous place on earth. When Trump says Pakistan provides shelter to the terrorists the US troops are out to neutralize, he specifically means the Haqqani network whose jihadis target the Afghan security forces as also the US-led NATO forces and then shelter in the ISI-run safe houses in Pakistan. This October, the Pakistanis took credit for arranging the release from the Haqqani network of an American woman and her Canadian husband along with their children after five years of captivity. Trump thanked the Pakistanis, only to be told by the US intelligence about the duplicitous role of the ISI since the hostages were all along in a Pak-controlled safe house. Also, the ISI pointedly refused to hand over a key collaborator of the kidnappers who was a Pakistani citizen. With such bad faith between the giver and the receiver of the aid, matters were certain to come to a head.
Given that the US is growing increasingly impatient at the lack of progress in restoring a semblance of order in Afghanistan, its decision to choke off aid might have some impact on a country which is intrinsically evil and sponsors terror as part of its State policy. Pakistan argues that it provides land, air and communications support to the US operations in Afghanistan, though they charge them through the nose for these services. But, in no way does it justify its perfidious conduct. The new US administration had given advance notice that it would not be business as usual under Trump.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson a couple of months ago while in Kabul had sternly told Pakistan to ‘demonstrate its commitment to civilisation, order, and to peace…’ But, Pakistan is beyond redemption. Treachery and betrayal is an integral part of its DNA. If the Americans have at long last decided to turn off the faucet of aid, it is unlikely the Chinese will be able to compensate for the loss because, unlike the Americans, the Chinese insist on extracting their pound of flesh. Already, the Pak middle classes are alarmed about the growing Chinese footprint in their economic and social life. If they begin to bankroll the Pak military, the latter would lose their freedom to play ducks and drakes with the donors. For the first time, the US is seeking hisaab from Pakistan for its billions, and the Rawalpindi generals are shedding copious tears, regardless of that show of bravado by their captive foreign office. On its part, India should wait and watch as the US tries to cook the Pakistani goose.