Imtiaz Rafi Butt
FROM the first day in office, Donald Trump has deliberately instigated controversies one after the other. He cancelled the Iran nuclear deal that the Obama Administration took years to achieve, under Trump the US backed out of the critical Climate Change Global Policy, unilaterally the US announced and implied occupation of Jerusalem as formally being a part of Israel and last but not the least, Donald Trump decided to cross the dialogue process and go hard on Pakistan by cutting security aid to Pakistan. At the outset, this seems like a misfortune for the already dwindling economy of the poverty stricken Pakistan but in diplomacy, matters are never that simple. Following threats from the U.S on unilateral military action and cutting of aid based on allegations of duplicity and negotiation with the Taliban and the Haqqani network, Pakistan has become the centre of attention of many nations, on the top of the list is definitely China.
Following Trump’s tirade, Government of Pakistan was quick to respond to the world. Without an iota of doubt, the people of Pakistan have sacrificed more than any other nation. Around 80,000 military and civilian deaths and around 120 billion dollars lost in mitigating terrorism related incidences. Even the United Nations is a strong proponent of Pakistan’s efforts in countering terrorism, not just in Pakistan but in the region as a whole. It is also known in the International community that the US needs a respectable exit from Afghanistan. The onslaught of the Taliban and failure to check their popularity and growth is frustrating the US Government. In case of status quo, the Taliban are on their path to come out stronger and more resilient than ever before, once the US troops leave. It is an embarrassing proposition for the Republicans as well as Democrats alike, a failure even bigger than the foolhardy US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Pakistan presents an alternative route and narrative that matches the magnitude of the failure. It is a country with the sixth largest army in the world and a nuclear power as well, a good scapegoat as it is.
The total financial quantum of suspended assistance to Pakistan comes to around 2 billion dollars. Although, this will cause significant hardship to Pakistan but it is in no way enough to alter the course of Pakistan Government as its policy is based on realities. It appears that the Pakistan Government is well informed about information on the ground. Based on the experience dealing with Taliban since 1979, coupled with interaction with the tribal warlords in FATA to the cleansing of violent elements by launching a successful military campaign in 2014, the Pakistan Armed Forces and the strategy is not going to change due to stoppage of aid. The US Administration is engaged with Pakistan and pouring in support for two prime reasons. One, Pakistan is a key nuclear power and ally with a unique geo-strategic position with special reference to Afghanistan and two; it serves as a supply point and reinforcements to military presence in Kabul. The Obama Administration was of the view that a weak nuclear state could become a nightmare for the world as terrorists could gain access to a full-fledged nuclear bomb or fissile material leading to possession of a nuclear bomb in the hands of non-state actors. All that has is set to change with Donald Trump. Pakistan has only responded with counter statements to US allegations but it could resort to do much more. As a secondary counter-measure, Pakistan has seized sharing of intelligence. Many options are still available which include suspending supply of equipment and military merchandise passing through Pakistan territory. The loss of security funding will reflect back on the American military campaign in Afghanistan and will not hurt Pakistan as much as it can hurt the other side. But perhaps, Pakistan will not need to exercise such measures, something the world could not swallow when access to Afghanistan was seized when NATO troops killed Pakistani soldiers in 2011.
A day after Trump’s remarks on Pakistan, Geng Shuang shot back with the following words, “Pakistan has made enormous efforts and sacrifice for the fight against terrorism and has made a very outstanding contribution to the global cause of counter-terrorism. The international community should acknowledge that”. This statement has come at a time when China is set to invest a huge 62 Billion dollar in Pakistan. A security assistance of just over 2 Billion is not even comparable. Already, Moscow has already shown interest in mutual co-operation with Pakistan. Pakistan is a country with multiple policy options. There seems to be clear pattern of mutual concern and alliance between China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan, a destabilized nuclear power in not in the interest of either one of these countries. No wonder, the State Bank of Pakistan announced a comprehensive use of Chinese currency in place of dollar in bi-lateral trade and investment with China. If one tweet from Trump was able to achieve this, Pakistan would want the US hard lines to continue.
Overall, Donald Trump is not the problem for Pakistan, he is an opportunity and an excuse that Pakistan has needed for long. Islamabad can finally cast aside the difficult relationship it has had with the unruly and devious superpower and focus on allies that closer in both physical and diplomatic proximity. The careful path for Pakistan will be to adopt a course of action with which it can make the most out of this uncertainty. Of course, it will be a tightrope to walk without gracious US dollars at the back of the economy, but one which will grant greater freedom and prospects of growth never realized before. The US can continue to damage its image through premature threats and desperate diplomatic moves but it is up to Pakistan to counter every uncalculated move with a strategy that sets the nation towards greater economic and political freedom in the region. The answer could lie in massive reorganization of national and domestic assets towards co-operation with Iran, Russia and China while addressing internal disputes and investing in the massive human resource pool that the country possesses. Pakistan could fall or accept the US yoke but it could also rise above this dilemma and realize its full potential which has been denied for decades.
—The writer is, Chairman Jinnah Rafi Foundation, based in Lahore.