How effective are tweets of anger?
Trump, like his predecessors, came down heavily on Pakistan for its support to terror groups. But will effective action follow the roll of thunder?
The Trump Administration’s decision to withhold $255 million worth of military aid to Pakistan is hardly surprising given its increasingly sharp criticism of Islamabad’s sham war against Islamist terrorism. Indeed, President Trump had said in his first tweet of 2018, “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but 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!” The tweet came in the wake of his statement during his National Security Strategy address on December 18, 2017, “We have made it clear to Pakistan that while we desire continued partnership, we must see decisive action against terrorist groups operating on their territory. “And we make massive payments every year to Pakistan. They have to help.”
Earlier, US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, had said during a visit to Kabul on October 23, 2017, that he would discuss with Pakistani leaders “specific requests” by the Trump Administration for actions that cripple the support networks of the Taliban and other extremist groups. Further, stating that American aid to Pakistan would in future be “condition-based”, he had added, “It will be based upon whether they take action that we feel is necessary to move the process forward for both creating opportunity for reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan but also ensuring a stable future Pakistan.”
As on earlier occasions, when American leaders had warned Pakistan of stanching aid in the absence credible action against terrorist groups operating from its soil, its leaders had reacted with a blend of expressions of anger and injured innocence to Trump and Tillerson’s observations. On the ground too, their reaction is unlikely to be any different from what had been earlier, which is doing nothing or just taking cosmetic action against terrorist groups patronised by Pakistan’s military and Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
In this, its reaction had followed the line taken at a top-level meeting held by General Pervez Musharraf, then President, after receiving an ultimatum from the US in the wake of 9/11, stating that Pakistan had to clearly declare whether it was for or against Washington. The line, that it would agree to do what the US wanted and then do what suited it, has worked fully to Islamabad’s expectation. There were occasions when the Americans were furious and withheld aid or threatened to do so. But, each time, the threat had either not been implemented or cuts had invariably been restored.
The main reason is that important people in the US establishment have always been led to believe that their country needed Pakistan’s support. Initially, this was against the Soviet Union and China, Washington’s cold war enemies. US support to Pakistan started waning as the cold war lost its chill and Pakistan embarked on a programme of acquiring nuclear arms. Then occurred the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, and the US policy of turning Afghanistan into Moscow’s Vietnam, which was aimed at getting even with the Russians for their support to North Vietnam during the Vietnamese War.
Pakistan became the principal agency for training Afghan Mujahideen armies fighting Soviet troops, coordinating and leading their operations and distributing arms aid. Its main objective was building up Mujahideen armies that were its creatures and would later help it to have a Government in Afghanistan that would be its surrogate and turn the country into its strategic rear against India. Washington recognised Islamabad’s design but did nothing to thwart it as it did not want the Afghan war against the Soviets to falter.
The US turned away from Afghanistan and Pakistan after the Soviet retreat from the former in February, 1989. It did little either to prevent the installation of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan in 1997 or the latter’s imposition of a reductionist pre-medieval Islamic order there. It acted only after 9/11. And, as noted, in this period too, Pakistan has been acting to serve its own end and not the US’s. Hence, repeated US admonitions, including Trump’s.
Pakistan is unlikely to change its ways, particularly since China has come out massively in its support post-Trump tweet. The question is: Will Trump succeed where other US Presidents have failed — in crafting a policy that will make Pakistan behave?
(The writer is Consultant Editor, The Pioneer, and an author)
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