US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley stated soon after Trump’s tweet that the US was willing “to go to great lengths to stop all funding to Pakistan as they continue to harbour and support terrorism.” How far the US will go is a moot point and if past precedence is anything to go by, it is likely that things will settle down sooner than later….writes Dr Sakariya Kareem
Pakistan’s response to President Donald Trump’s New Year tweet criticizing Islamabad for its so-called ‘lies and deceit’ in its ties with the US in the last 15 years has been to propose a ban on donations to banned organisations like Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF). While President Trump in his tweet said something unexceptionable, it was clearly not only rhetoric as was the case with past US Presidents, there is an element of realism in that the US wants Pakistan to help it in Afghanistan, but Pakistan has seemingly moved away on that front.
But first to the now oft-quoted Trump tweet in which the US President stated that “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than US$ 33 billion in aid over the last 15 years and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools”, adding “they give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”.
Trump was articulating a view that many former Presidents of the US have held and India has in fact pointed this fact to several US leaders! It was President Barack Obama who initiated the process of putting conditions on military assistance to Pakistan and this process continues with the US Congress passing aid on the basis of authorisations that are pre-conditioned on Pakistan taking action against designated terrorist groups like the Haqqani network.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, was the first responder to the US President’s statement and claimed that Pakistan was “ready to publicly provide every detail of the US aid that it has received.” He added that Pakistan had “already told the US that we will not do more, so Trump’s ‘no more’ does not hold any importance.” The US administration under Trump also decided to withhold aid amounting to US$ 255 million. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley stated soon after Trump’s tweet that the US was willing “to go to great lengths to stop all funding to Pakistan as they continue to harbor and support terrorism.” How far the US will go is a moot point and if past precedence is anything to go by, it is likely that things will settle down sooner than later.
That President Trump’s statement hit home in Pakistan was evident in convening of the National Security Committee (NSC) chaired by Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. Following the meeting, Pakistan expressed “deep disappointment” at recent comments of President Trump, stating that these were “completely incomprehensible as they contradicted facts manifestly, struck with great insensitivity at the trust between two nations built over generations, and negated the decades of sacrifices made by the Pakistani nation.”
For Pakistan the root cause of terrorism in Afghanistan is due to “corruption, drug production and ungoverned terrorist havens”. Therefore, the Pak NSC claims that Pakistan cannot be held responsible for the collective failure in Afghanistan and adds that “blaming allies certainly does not serve the shared objective of achieving lasting peace in Afghanistan and the region.”
It is time for President Trump to walk the talk and take action against Pakistan. Mere rhetoric will only embolden Pakistan to use its leverage to offset any US action
As a statement of intent, the Pakistani version of events of the situation in Afghanistan reads well, but the reality is that the Taliban-Haqqani network combination is working at the behest of the Pakistani deep state. Further, there is a Daesh content in inflaming the Afghan imbroglio and this is working with the twin objectives of creating a sectarian divide in Afghanistan and act as a counter to the Taliban. These forces are at the command of the Pak military and provide the necessary strategic depth to Pakistan.
Which brings back to the narrative of Pakistan announcing its intention to ban donations being made to charity organizations like the FIF and JuD. The reason for this, not so much President Trump’s tweet, but the fact that a monitoring team of the UN Security Council is visiting Pakistan this month to review progress on action against terrorists, both individuals and entities. A 19 December document from the finance ministry directed law enforcement and governments in Pakistan’s five provinces to submit an action plan by Dec. 28 for a “takeover” of Saeed’s two charities, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF). Further, Pakistan has to submit aAction Taken Report by February 2018 to the FATF. This was a decision taken at the FATF Plenary in Buenos Aires in November 2017 and Pakistan is clearly feeling the pressure. That is why Pakistan has taken the step of seeking to ban donations to organizations like the JuD. In fact, the Pakistan government wants to take over the hospitals and buses run by charity organizations sponsored by JUD and FIF.
The real intent is to get over this immediate crisis and past precedence indicates that this is precisely what will happen. Recall that it was a FATF threat that led to the arrest of LeT founder Hafeez Saeed in January 2017. Therefore, one can expect a replay this time too. The point here is that the US should be aware of the Pak strategy and if it is serious, should impose sanctions on Pakistan. Lisa Curtis and Hussain Haqqani in their Hudson Institute Study on Pakistan persuasively argue that “The U.S. must stop chasing the mirage of securing change in Pakistan’s strategic direction by giving it additional aid or military equipment. It must be acknowledged that Pakistan is unlikely to change its current policies through inducements alone.” The key to future US policy towards Pakistan has been aptly stated in the thought that “The U.S. can and must better leverage U.S. military aid to encourage tougher policies against terrorists who operate from within Pakistan.”
The US bottom line should be to “Present to Pakistan a list of calibrated actions for ending its support to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, and make clear that failure to make substantial progress on these steps could eventually result in Pakistan’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.” The US has done this in the past and recent reports of the visit of Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis and State Secretary Rex W Tillerson indicate that the US has given Pakistan a list of “asks”, but Pakistan does not appear to be moving forward on any of these! Therefore, it is time for President Trump to walk the talk and take action against Pakistan. Mere rhetoric will only embolden Pakistan to use its leverage to offset any US action.