As a non-NATO ally in the war on terror, for the last 17 years, Pakistan has extended immense assistance to the US and coalition forces by providing them land and air supply routes and very close intelligence support. As a result, the operation enduring freedom in Afghanistan was facilitated, enabling the US to defeat al-Qaeda and related groups and form a new government in Kabul. In the process, Pakistan was adversely impacted by the fallout of this war. During the war on terror, Pakistan has suffered more than 70, 000 casualties (including 6000 military personnel), and a huge economic loss of aboveUS$120 billion.
As a result of the operation Zarb-e-Azb launched in 2014, North Waziristan, including Khyber Agency, has been cleared of all terrorists, including Haqqani Network, since most of them were killed and some fled to Afghanistan. As Afghanistan has provided safe havens to those terrorists, India is using Afghan soil for sponsoring terrorism to destabilise Balochistan. The US authorities are in full knowledge of this. Now, operation Radd-ul-Fassad is in progress to chase any terrorists spotted in Pakistan.
Rather than acknowledging Pakistan’s contributions in the war on terror, in his Afghanistan and South Asia policy announced on 21 August 2017, President Trump alleged Pakistan for providing safe havens for the Taliban and Haqqani Network.
Trump said, “Pakistan must stop providing safe havens for terrorists. Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with the US effort in Afghanistan, and much to lose by continuing to harbour terrorists. The US and its allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan will work to stop the resurgence of safe havens and victory will mean attacking our enemies, obliterating the ISIS, crushing al-Qaida, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan and preempting terror attacks against the US. The US must prevent nuclear weapons/materials from coming into the hands of terrorists”. Trump had also said, “India will be a key component in any strategy in the region, and we are committed to pursuing our shared objectives in South Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region.
Despite this, President Trump issued his first Tweet of 2018 saying, “The US has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars 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 havens to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” On January 5, 2018, the United States announced it was suspending all security and military assistance to Pakistan and the Secretary of the State, James Mattis stated that the security assistance will be restored only when Pakistan take action against the Taliban and Haqqani Network.
This bluntly stated allegation of providing safe havens to terrorists in Pakistan does not carry weight given the fact that the Taliban have control over approximately 40 percent area of Afghanistan, where they and Haqqanis can stay. This allegation only amounts to making Pakistan a scapegoat for the US failures in Afghanistan. The fact, however, comes to fore if one reads the statement of Gen (R) David Petraeus, the former CIA director and commander of US troops in Afghanistan, in response to a question related to Pakistan’s alleged duplicity in fighting the war on terror in Afghanistan. General Petraeus said there is no evidence of Pakistan playing a double game and supporting terrorists in Afghanistan. Petraeus’ remarks are particularly significant given the fact that he was on a short list of Trump’s choices for the post of the Secretary of the State.
Given the above facts, it seems that President Trump is using India’s language by alleging Pakistan for providing safe havens to the terrorists. Since last few years, Modi has been struggling to negatively influence important world leaders to blame Pakistan for sponsoring terrorism, but he failed. However, in theUS-India strategic partnership to contain China, Modi has been especially trying to negatively influence the US Administration and particularly President Trump, to blame Pakistan for supporting terrorism in the region, to ultimately undermine Pakistan’s nuclear status and the success of the CPEC. Perhaps, to please India, Trump blamed Pakistan for safe havens and also stated that the US must prevent nuclear weapons from coming into the hands of terrorists. Otherwise, it is a time bar statement as Pakistan has already uprooted terrorism, the world knows. In fact, given India’s state terrorism in Kashmir and Kulbushan Jadhav’s (India’s serving naval officer in Pakistan’s custody) confession of supporting terrorism in Balochistan, India should be declared as a state sponsor of terror.
This bluntly stated allegation of providing safe havens to terrorists in Pakistan does not carry weight given the fact that the Taliban control approximately 40 percent of Afghanistan, where both they and the Haqqanis find safe haven
Hence, based on misconceived allegations, the closure of the security and military assistance to Pakistan has no justification. On the other hand, the Pakistani officials have suggested many times to the US to apprehend Pakistani terrorists hiding in Afghanistan and hand them over to Pakistan, but the US has not responded. This is a serious situation for Pakistan. And, instead of reigning in India from destabilising Balochistan, President Trump has advocated for an enhanced role of India in Afghanistan.
While cutting security assistance, President Trump has not realised that without Pakistan’s active cooperation it will be difficult to achieve peace in Afghanistan and any further harsh steps against it will hurt the US interests in the region more than Pakistan’s. As mentioned by The New York Times, the US will have to find a solution if Pakistan denies air and ground passage of the US supplies in Afghanistan, particularly when the US cannot find an alternative route due to its sour relations with Turkey, Iran and Russia. As Christine Fair has said, “In Afghanistan, the US strategy gets defeated by the logistics”. As far as Pakistan is concerned, due to aid cuts, it will be able to find other sources of economic assistance, like China and Gulf countries and will also adopt strict economic discipline to become self-reliant in the long run.
A persistent and tough behaviour of the US will also compel Pakistan to move further closer to the China and Russia and since the US has already hurt Iran, Turkey and Russia on various grounds, this situation might bring China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Russia together. Such a scenario, if materialises, will impact the US supremacy in Asia because then India will also become hesitant to sustain its current increasing alliance with the US. Therefore, while straining relations with Pakistan, it seems that President Trump and his team are failing to realise that Pakistan’s strategic significance to peace and stability in Afghanistan and adjoining regions is much more than India, as many countries of these regions are joining the CPEC. However, the good sign is that despite the undue pressure of the US, Pakistan is willing to maintain good relations with it, provided the US administration decides to work with Pakistan based on mutual trust and respect.
The writer is a former Research Fellow of Islamabad Policy Research Institute
Published in Daily Times, January 25th 2018.