Responding to Trump

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IN seventy years of Pakistan’s existence, it has never received a more abusive message from another government than that contained in US President Trump’s tweet on January 1, 2018. It said: “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” Trump’s tweet is insulting, unfair and biased. He believes that US-Pakistan relations over the past 15 years have been a one-way street in which Pakistan has taken advantage of USA through lies and deception. He is clearly ignorant of the true facts. To recall, after 9/11, President Bush decided to invade Afghanistan to remove the Taliban regime, liquidate Al-Qaeda and catch or kill its leader Osama bin Laden.
There was global consensus in favour of the war against terror, including binding Resolutions passed by the UN Security Council to facilitate US efforts in this regard. The only feasible access route for US/NATO forces to attack Afghanistan was via Pakistan whose cooperation was indispensable. Even seventeen years later, this access route continues to be used for US military operations in Afghanistan. In this context, Pakistan has done a great favour done to USA, whose economic and military aid is no more than a quid pro quo. Moreover, Pakistani armed forces launched big military operations to flush out terrorists from remote border areas, for which purpose USA created a Coalition Support Fund (CSF) to reimburse Pakistan for its expenditure.
According to US calculations, Pakistan has received about $33 billion in aid since 2002. Actually, much of it is CSF, which is not aid but a reimbursement. Substantial amounts of promised US aid were never actually disbursed. Hence, the overall US aid is much less than claimed by Trump. Prime Minister Abbasi said in a recent interview with ’’Guardian’’ that the total aid Pakistan has actually received was a tiny fraction of the amount being talked about by US government.”The aid in the last five years at least has been less than $10 million a year. It is a very, very insignificant amount.” What Trump completely overlooks is that Pakistan was never compensated for human losses (70,000 killed) and financial losses (over $100 billion) suffered by it, due to retaliation by terrorists, including Al-Qaeda, for supporting US/NATO operations in Afghanistan.
Trump’s tweet has naturally outraged Pakistanis who are a proud people. Pakistan is not just another state, but one possessing nuclear power and missile capability, which cannot be taken for granted by anyone. Trump is known to be blunt, rude, conceited and unbalanced. Many question his sanity. But he happens to be President of USA, the world’s sole super power. Despite Trump’s provocation, Pakistan’s response must be based on cold calculation of national interests. Pakistan has had a close relationship with USA since independence and is recipient of about $75 billion in US military and economic aid, which is more than the aid received from all other countries put together. The US is Pakistan’s largest trading partner and leading export market. It is influential in top financial bodies in the world like IMF, Asian Development Bank, etc., which are important for Pakistan for fiscal and developmental support. There exist strong educational and cultural links between the two countries. Pakistani migrants in USA are around one million, who are gainfully employed: their remittances are important and they can become an effective lobby to influence US policies.
In geostrategic terms, the present situation is that Pakistan’s relations with its adversary India are at the lowest level, with threats of escalation. Another neighbour Afghanistan is hostile and is working hand in glove with India. Relations with Iran remain unsatisfactory. The stigma of terrorism has harmed our relations with many countries. At home, political instability and economic weakness have become big problems. Under these circumstances, any deterioration of relations with the sole super power is not in our national interest. The US can draw even closer to India and create new hazards for Pakistan. No doubt, China remains our great friend and supporter but it would not be prudent to place all our eggs in one basket or become a dependency of China. Relations with Russia have improved and should be further cultivated but it retains close links with India and is also not an aid-giving country.
Reason and not emotions must guide foreign policy. Chest-thumping nationalism and bravado may win popularity, as some of Pakistani politicians and commentators are trying, but realism and prudence are true hallmarks of wise diplomacy. Our Foreign Office has given a measured response to Trump’s tweet. It is yet to be seen whether his tweet is bluster or actual policy. The main US grievance is regarding Haqqani group and any concrete action taken by us against this group would help remove the distrust. We should try to put across our narrative to all branches of US government viz. the State Department, Pentagon, CIA, and Congress, as well as leading US think tanks and news media. While avoiding any public quarrel with a loudmouth like Trump, a confidential but firm message could be conveyed to US that Pakistan is not without options and could adopt some tough measures, namely, closure of access route, forcible return of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, and our non-participation in any effort to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. This is perhaps the language that Trump understands better.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.

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