Pak's all-weather friend
Islamabad reaps political dividend out of a provocative Trump.
The 45th US President Donald John Trump's 50-word tweet, accusing Pakistan of siphoning US $ 33 billion-plus aid to Afghan terrorists giving them 'safe heaven' and 'given us nothing but lies & deceit' has been volleyed back by Pak Minister of Foreign Affairs Khawaja Asif in twitter: "He can hire a US-based Audit firm on our expense to verify this figure & let the world know who is lying & deceiving." This rebuff was expected as Special Assistant to the Pak Prime Minister Dr. Musadik Malik assured that Islamabad would respond to the US in line of international diplomatic norms. But keeping up diplomatic dignity, the Pakistan Foreign Office summoned US Ambassador David Hale and lodged its protest against President Trump's tweet.
Trump's bumptious-as-usual stance united Pakistan's ruling and the Opposition parties against the provocative statement from the White House. Former Pak Ambassador to the USA and ex-minister Sherry Rahman, a senator representing Pakistan's People's Party, reminded Washington that the 'coalition support funds have NEVER been counted as AID in any accounting by Pakistan, nor will it be seen as part of assistance. It was compensation on expenses incurred in joint action on border'. In her tweet, the chair of the non-politicised think tank stated in a bantering tone that Pakistan "never promised a rose garden next door in Afghanistan, nor can it create one. The problem lies in expecting such while zigzagging American policy goalposts with a new toggle jack".
PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, participating in the tweet war, claimed that the PPP government launched Pakistan's first, most extensive and most successful anti-terror operations adding, the US is "no longer interested in defeating terrorism."
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader took a jibe at Trump telling "the world's strongest military force has nothing to show off its 16-year long presence in Afghanistan but failure and is incapable even of a graceful exit".
The outward restraint notwithstanding, things get undesirably hardened in and around, thanks to the stupidly myopic obstinacy of Trump administration, which blocked an already-delayed $255 million military aid to Pakistan. US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who is known to often out-Trump the President, promptly informed that the US was withholding $255 million in aid for Pakistan for the latter's failure to cooperate fully in America´s fight against terrorism.
Cashing in on the patriotic response from the Opposition – apparently smelt by the government, Islamabad chooses not to walk into Trump's provocative assertions, a construct of 'baseless allegations'. The tactical stance is the outcome at an urgent meeting of the National Security Committee of the Pak federal Cabinet, chaired by PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi at his residence, attended by Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister for Interior Ahsan Iqbal, Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir, Minister for Defence, Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, his second-in- command General Zubair Mehmood Hayat, Chief of the Naval Staff, Air Chief Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi, Chief of the Air Staff Marshal Sohail Aman, the PM's advisor on finance, revenue and economic affairs Miftah Ismail, National Security Adviser, Lt. General Nasser Khan Januja, Pakistan's Ambassador to the US Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry and other top senior civil and military officials.
At the end of the lengthy deliberations, the extended NSC observed amid serious disappointment that the close interaction with the US leadership, anticipated as a sequel to the initial pronouncement of the policy on South Asia by the new boss at the White House for a better understanding of each other's perspectives, as the best way forward to achieve durable peace and stability in Afghanistan. This was reaffirmed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defence Secretary James Norman during their visits to Islamabad. The recent statements and articulation by the American leadership, the meeting concluded, are completely incomprehensible as they contradicted facts, struck with great insensitivity at the trust between two nations built over generations, and negated the decades of sacrifices made by Pakistan. The NSC handout was issued by the Foreign Office stating that a consensus is that Pakistan would remain committed to playing a constructive role towards an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process, not just for the sake of its own people, but also for the peace and security of the region and international community.
Hardliners, albeit minority, are not mum. Former Minister during the Musharraf regime, Jahangir Khan Tareen, born in Comillla, now in Bangladesh, interpreted Trump's tweet a reflection of 'complete bankruptcy and hollow leadership of Pakistan today. These lackeys of the Sharifs are responsible for the manner in which the US has treated us today'.
A very interesting feedback came from an activist of the Progressive Writers Association and freelance writer Khalid Mahmood to this scribe. "Pakistan and the USA friendship was established by Muhammad Ali Jinnah who sent his Finance Minister Malik Ghulam Mohammad to the USA for aid and arms. The Pak American friendship was established to block the Soviet Union and Socialism. Pakistan dexterously performed this job and earned tons of hard cash. And now, Pakistan services are not needed anymore, therefore the total balance of dole-out ledger is shown. Secondly, President Trump, like our many homegrown demagogues, is not a student of history. Whatever USA doled out to Pakistan had been wisely reciprocated to save American vested interests. Not a penny of US aid was spent for the welfare of masses. If the USA does not create anxiety among our hawks, it is very unlikely in the current circumstances to buck up Taliban and hardliners. Symbolically, New Year Eve celebrations at Lahore and Karachi Bahria Towns passed off without any suicide attacks by the Talibans".
Based in Gujranwala, Mahmood thinks, "China would not enter this sort of scuffle." Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang's reaction endorses this point. Beijing is happy 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. We believe as neighbours China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are closely linked not only geographically but also in terms of common interests. It is natural for us to enhance communication and exchanges," he quipped.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)