THERE may be a grain of truth in the statement by US President Donald Trump that his country has ‘foolishly’ given $33 billion in aid to Pakistan in the last 15 years. But he is wrong when he says that America has not got anything in return. Understandably, Pakistan could not repay in dollars. Nor did Washington expect that. But Pakistan offered facilities for the US to operate militarily. President Trump is unnecessarily harsh when he says that his country got nothing in return except lies and deceit and also referred to leaders as fools. During the cold war when the world was divided into two blocs, Pakistan was on the side of America and was a part of Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO), a least successful alliance made up of unlikely allies like Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey and the United Kingdom in 1955.
The purpose of CENTO was similar to that of the much better known—and far more successful—North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), mainly to contain the Soviet Union and prevent its expansion into the Middle East. Treaty members had to agree to mutual cooperation and protection. But, perhaps most interestingly, given the then political situation many of these countries found themselves in, they also had to agree not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs. As the group’s original name the Baghdad Pact suggests its first headquarters were in Baghdad. However, an Iraqi military coup in 1958 resulted in Iraq’s withdrawal from the group, which in turn resulted in a name change to CENTO and the headquarters shifted to Ankara, a less fundamentalist Turkey. The organization stayed out of the Six-Day and the Yom Kippur wars, although Iraq was an active belligerent in the former and provided combat support in the latter. However, it had pulled out of the organization at that time. CENTO also did not intervene in the India-Pakistan wars of 1965 or 1971, claiming that it was an anti-Soviet pact, not an anti-India one. The organisation was finally disbanded in 1979 after it was unable to prevent the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 or the Iranian Islamic revolution. Justifiably, Pakistan could not accept Trump’s tweet and it immediately reacted when Foreign Minister Khwaja M. Asif tweeted: “We will respond to President’s Trump’s tweet shortly Inshalla…will let the world know the truth…difference between facts and fiction.” Soon after, the Pakistan’s foreign ministry issued a statement, saying, “Pakistan rejects such unfounded accusations that belie facts on ground and trivialize Pakistan’s efforts for fighting terrorism and our unmatched sacrifices to promote peace and stability in the region.”
China, who had long been waiting in the wings, made most of the situation and stepped in to defend Pakistan by saying that the world community should acknowledge its all-weather ally’s “outstanding contribution” to counter terrorism, a day after the US President lashed out at Islamabad for providing safe havens to militants.
China, showering praises on Pakistan, said that Islamabad has made enormous efforts and sacrifices for the fight against terrorism and has made very outstanding contribution to the global cause of counter terrorism. “The international community should acknowledge that,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in Beijing when asked about Trump’s criticism of Pakistan. He also added that China was glad to see Pakistan engaging in international cooperation, including counter terrorism, on the basis of mutual respect so as to contribute to regional peace and stability.
“China and Pakistan are all-weather partners. We stand ready to promote and deepen our all-round cooperation so as to bring benefits to the two sides,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman. It was expected because China is currently investing heavily in Pakistan as part of the $50 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) over which India has raised objections as it passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. During the first ever trilateral meeting of the foreign ministers of China, Pakistan and Afghanistan last week, Beijing had announced plans to extend the CPEC to Afghanistan which shares close ties with India. However, former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, has welcomed Trump’s outburst, while calling for establishing a joint US-regional coalition to pressure the Pakistani military establishment to bring peace to not just Afghanistan but the entire region. Afghanistan, too, had accused Pakistan of sheltering Taliban militants, leading to a long running spat between the two countries. China is seeking to mediate between the two neighbours through the trilateral mechanism.
Yet, the analysts point out that the US was mounting pressure on Pakistan as it has firmed up an alliance with Beijing by allowing heavy Chinese investments in the strategic CPEC corridor providing China access to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. But with common interests, it was natural for China and Pakistan and lately Afghanistan, to enhance communication and exchanges. After all, China believes that Pakistan and Afghanistan are closely linked geographically. Understandably, the three reached consensus on several issues, including enhancing cooperation on counter terrorism and fighting against terrorism in all forms and manifestations.
It was expected that India would welcome US President’s tough message to Pakistan on terrorism. “The Trump administration decision has abundantly vindicated India’s stand as far as terror is concerned, as far as the role of Pakistan is concerned in perpetrating terrorism because end of the day terrorist is a terrorist… terror is terror and it does not spare any single nation, any single country, any single region,” Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh said. It is apparent that President Trump is unfolding a new American policy. This is far-right as compared to President Clinton’s left-of-the-centre. The old values are no longer relevant. And Donald Trump is taking Washington back to the conservative era. India may have to oppose the US President because its left-of-the-centre policy comes into conflict with what Trump is advocating. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether or not Pakistan can sustain itself without the US aid. Islamabad has said that it is computing the total aid received from the US so as to return the amount. But it is obvious that Pakistan cannot.
—The writer is a veteran Indian journalist, syndicated columnist, human rights activist and author.