Pakistan, Afghanistan and Trump

Since President Trump’s speech on Afghanistan a few nights ago, in which he promised to “get tough” on Pakistan, this repetitive statement, seemingly with new resolve, combined with a commitment to a forever war in Afghanistan and a green light to India to get more involved there has generated a stream of analysis in Pakistan.

The normal outrage ensued from the usual quarters about how much Pakistan has sacrificed in the war against terror. The usual assurances came from the usual corners that of course the US appreciates all the sacrifices. Ambassador David Hale met with the Pakistani COAS to “relay” Trump’s message to the military, receiving the response that “Pakistan doesn’t want your money, we just want respect and to be treated as an equal partner in this war.”

Unfortunately trust is at an all-time low in this relationship. This is partly due to the way things have turned out in Afghanistan, with the US looking for someone to pin their losses on (if not their outright defeat, because it hasn’t come to that yet). Indian lobbies have also been hard at work painting the picture of Pakistan as a perfidous, two-faced, Janus-faced, and possibly Rubik’s cube-faced partner who you can trust no further than you could throw down the Indus.

It seems difficult to ask Pakistan to give up “supporting terrorism” (their words) in light of our own national interest (our words), which have for decades involved keeping India’s aggression, covert and overt, to a minimum. Even the United States recognizes this, with Secy of State Rex Tillerson urging India to work harder at a rapprochement with Pakistan. Someone’s been telling them (probably Pakistan’s last remaining friends at the State Department) that there might be two sides to this story, and maybe it isn’t worth throwing away a sixty-year alliance with a Muslim, nuclear-armed country.

But the underlying message is: where are the results for all the $$$ we’ve been paying you? Unfortunately, reducing everything to a transactional relationship means that you leave the field open to anyone who can pay more than you. In this op-ed for the Dawn, Nadia Naviwala tells us why this is not a game the United States can win, with China offering much more money for Pakistan’s loyalty at a much lower price. This money comes in the shape of a loan, at LIBOR+2 rates which Pakistan will have to pay back at some point (pretty sure they can find some of it in the ruling families’ bank accounts).

Some people are suggesting an alliance between Pakistan, Russia, China and Iran to counter this increased pressure. Certainly Saudi Arabia, Pakistan’s …. I’m not even sure of the word to describe this relationship… okay, let’s say “big brother” in the region would have something to say about this, and the Prime Minister went over to Riyadh yesterday to find out what that is.

Certainly Pakistan will be looking for ways to negotiate and delay and finesse this new policy; it will not all play out the way Trump’s advisors wrote in his speech. There will be much repetition of the same old same old in this dynamic, and the end result will really only be more loss of lives.

But if Pakistanis were truly smart, and wanted something to change, they would attempt to counter much of this anti-Pakistan thinking where it matters: in the corridors of power in Washington. If expat Pakistanis really wanted to do something good for Pakistan, they’d fund thinktanks and create lobby groups with a distinctly pro-Pakistani agenda to represent Pakistan’s interests in DC. And they would fund academic chairs at universities for Pakistan studies programs, which are currently outnumbered by Indian and pro-Indian scholars.

It’s brains that will make the difference in this situation.

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