Jamal Hussain |
“Pakistan gave us only lies and deceit,” tweeted Donald Trump the US President as a New Year’s gift to its most allied non-NATO associate. While a tweet emanating from the President of the US (POTUS) should never be taken lightly, Donald Trump has set a different set of rules.
He has the ability of tweeting the most outrageous statements that have no relevance to the truth, yet despite heavy criticism by the American main stream print and electronic media is none the worse for it—in effect he appears to thrive on the negativity these generate that strangely solidifies the support of his core base.
The crisis resolution he would describe as a US victory while portraying himself as the strongman whose forceful style of governance has forced Pakistan to capitulate.
This verbal attack and lashing out at Pakistan cannot be ignored. During his one-year tenure as POTUS, Pakistan has learned to live with many of his outlandish anti-Pakistan statements and instead it concentrated on the quiet diplomacy being conducted by the US Secretary of State and Secretary of Defence with their Pakistani counterparts that are more balanced and nuanced.
Privately the Pakistani and US viewpoints on the ongoing war in Afghanistan have a degree of convergence and the American top diplomats and generals appreciate the positive role of Pakistan in the war on terror, even accepting many of its points of view. Donald Trump as the head of the US administration on the other hand sings a different tune. Is this a game of “good cop and bad cop” or are some other more sinister designs in play?
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Presidential candidate Donald Trump had railed against US troop engagement in Afghanistan. He had wanted an end to the US involvement in Afghanistan as early as 2011 calling Afghanistan “a complete waste” adding it was “time to come home.” He continued that line as presedential candidate Trump. On taking over as POTUS he realised his Afghan policy could not be implemented without antagonising the powerful US military represented by the Pentagon.
A couple of months later he could come up with a fresh tweet that as a result of his warning and tough stance, Pakistan has caved in and taken necessary actions he had demanded of them.
Since holding the US military responsible for the failure in Afghanistan would be unpatriotic he turned his sights on his predecessor President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan policy and on Pakistan which despite being an ally is accused of harbouring the Haqqani faction of the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan in effect becomes a convenient scapegoat to explain the utter failure of the US military in subduing the resurgent Afghan Taliban, who currently control around 50% of Afghanistan.
On the question of Pakistan harbouring the Haqqani syndicate, this accusation had some truth prior to 2014 when the Pakistani military had ignored the Haqqani network that had ensconced itself in the then lawless region of North Waziristan. The ongoing military campaigns in South Waziristan and the consolidation phase following the ouster of the TTP and other insurgent groups from the Swat Valley and other Tribal Belts had consumed much of the military resources, leaving little to undertake a meaningful campaign against the Haqqani setup.
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By 2014, the operational cycle in South Waziristan had been completed and the attack on the Army Public School made the removal of the Haqqanis from their hideouts the top priority. Operation Zarb-e-Azb was followed by Raddul Fasaad and the Haqqanis have been evicted from their North Waziristan sanctuary.
There he initially had fulsome praise for the professionalism displayed by the Pakistani military unit which had rescued the US-Canadian family who were being held hostages by the Haqqani kidnappers.
The American administration continues to openly accuse Pakistan of being soft on the Haqqani syndicate which they believe still operate with impunity from the Pakistani soil. In private parleys with the top Pakistani civilian leadership and military brass they do concede the Pakistani viewpoint that the backbone of the Haqqani structure has been broken has some merit.
USA is also aware the Haqqani Central is now firmly established across the Durand Line in the eastern provinces of Afghanistan that are beyond the control of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the ISAF. Pakistan does not have the permission or authority to engage these elements across the international border. In public, however, the stance that the Haqqani faction still operates from the Pakistani soil and is nurtured by Pakistan continues unabated.
The factual situation about the presence of the Haqqani headquarters in Afghanistan rather than Pakistan must have been conveyed to Donald Trump through his National Security Adviser Lt. General H. R. McMaster.
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The American President must also be aware that the $ 33 billion aid given to Pakistan since the past fifteen years is less than peanuts and pales in comparison when compared to the military cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars which amount to a whopping $815 and $686 billion respectively; a truer measure of total cost pegs them to between $4 to 6 trillion (Mark Thompson, January 1st, 2015).
The Trump response to the positive role of Pakistan in the hostage rescue operation could be an indicator of Donald Trump’s modus operandi when confronted with the truth.
To maintain that the Pakistani support to the Haqqani network operating from its soil whose fighter strength in Pakistan varies from 4000 to 12,000 (New York Time, 2009) or at best 15,000 (Combating Terrorism Centre 2011) has checkmated the military might of the lone superpower in Afghanistan is almost laughable. And yet, Donald Trump continues to lambast Pakistan holding it principally responsible for the US military debacle in Afghanistan—why?
The follow-up threat in the tweet if Pakistan does not mend its ways is to withhold the US Coalition Support Fund (CSF) amounting to $255 million which it currently owes to Pakistan. Pakistan has already replied that it has done enough and it is time for USA to do more and it does not need the CSF if it comes attached with conditions that harm its national interest.
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The US administration is surprised by the stance of Pakistan and realises the Chinese factor has reduced the leverage it had earlier enjoyed in the region; today it has limited options of initiating major punitive actions without risking unacceptable consequences. Why not just spin it to your advantage in typical Trumpian style? The Trump response to the positive role of Pakistan in the hostage rescue operation could be an indicator of Donald Trump’s modus operandi when confronted with the truth.
The ongoing military campaigns in South Waziristan and the consolidation phase following the ouster of the TTP and other insurgent groups from the Swat Valley and other Tribal Belts had consumed.
There he initially had fulsome praise for the professionalism displayed by the Pakistani military unit which had rescued the US-Canadian family who were being held hostages by the Haqqani kidnappers; but he immediately followed it up by taking the entire credit to his hard-line policy when dealing with Pakistan that forced it to meaningfully cooperate with USA.
In the current scenario Trump realises Pakistan is likely to ignore the American threat; he is also aware of Pakistan’s stance of having uprooted the Haqqanis and other factions opposing ANA and ISAF from its soil could well be true so why not spin it in his favour.
A couple of months later he could come up with a fresh tweet that as a result of his warning and tough stance, Pakistan has caved in and taken necessary actions he had demanded of them. The crisis resolution he would describe as a US victory while portraying himself as the strongman whose forceful style of governance has forced Pakistan to capitulate.
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Trump has gotten away with the impossible before and if this remains his strategy, so be it and Pakistan would wish him all the success. Should the crisis get resolved in this manner even if Trump gives all the credit to himself and his belligerence—Pakistan should not mind.
Air Commodore (retd) Jamal Hussain has served in Pakistan Air Force from 1966 to 1997. He was awarded Sitara-e-Basalat for his services in the year 1982. He regularly contributes articles on defense-related issues in the Defence Journal from Pakistan, Probe Magazine (Dhaka – Bangladesh) and Dawn, The News, and The Nation English Dailies from Pakistan. He is the author of two books on ‘Air Power in South Asia’ and ‘Dynamics of Nuclear Weapons in South Asia’. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.