So it’s been 24 hours since the tweet that shook the world (okay, maybe not so much, but at least caused a stir in Pakistan). The BBC Asian Network called me to be a guest on their radio show discussing the tweet. Was it right or wrong of Donald Trump to tweet that we took $33 billion USD in aid and lied and deceived them and made them look like fools while harboring terrorists? So here are some of the things I got the opportunity to say, alone and in response to some of the other guests and callers:
First, Donald’s numbers are wrong. According to Asad Hashmi, Al Jazeera Web correspondent and an independent journalist, the United States has given something like $14 billion in aid, but owes $14 billion in Coalition reimbursements, out of which a paltry sum has been disbursed so far. That doesn’t even add up to $33 billion. In the meanwhile, here is the price we have paid for the fifteen years of the war against terror:
$100 billion effect on our economy
60,000 civilians dead
7000 security officers and 20,000 security personnel dead
What Trump tweeted was partisan opinion, not official US policy. Even if it’s “What everyone is thinking”, it belies the fact that US military officials have been visiting Pakistan and wanting to finesse the relationship while still putting pressure on Pakistan to stop supporting the Haqqani network.
Just as Trump’s Jerusalem announcement put US foreign service officers in danger, this Tweet will put US foreign service officers in Pakistan under more stress. The US Ambassador has already been summoned to give an explanation to the Pakistani Foreign office about the tweet. There are protests being held today over Trump’s tweet. What a shame that US foreign policy is now being expressed in 280 characters rather than through official diplomatic channels.
Donald Trump is seeking to lay the blame for 15 years of a failed war in Afghanistan on two things: the previous administrations (especially Obama’s), and Pakistan. This is ignoring the fact that after the US walked away from Afghanistan last time, they left a power vaccuum into which many elements, Afghan warlords and foreign proxies, filled the gap.
Pakistan was playing a game of strategic depth, certainly, but the real reason for the failure of the war has a lot to do with the ineffectiveness of the Afghan government the US installed, the corruption of people like Hamid Karzai, and the fact that there are plenty of internal players who are fighting for supremacy still in Afghanistan. The Taliban is one of that group, but a powerful one, especially when you consider that they’re financing themselves by now with their poppy production, off which a lot of groups are making tons o’ money from the global heroin trade.
Things got interesting on the program when Bob Ayers, a security expert, came on the show to insist that American aid was not a no-strings-attached gift but a way of promoting US national interests. If those interests were not being served, the United States has every right to take away the aid. (They should probably take the label “A Gift from the People of the USA” off the boxes first)
Bob also questioned Pakistan’s nuclear program, but I responded that Pakistan is a sovereign nation and has every right to a nuclear program that is in line with international laws, and to its own defense. Paltry sums of US aid don’t get to dictate what we do with our defense or our own resources. Are you actually buying us off with that aid, and are you then in a position to dictate terms to us? We are your allies and partners in this war, not your lapdogs. At least, that’s what your generals tell us. As to whether we’ve been “lying and deceiving” the United States, Pakistanis would argue that a sovereign nation also has the right to do what it must in its own national interest (the debate about how successful that has been is another subject altogether).
I also reminded Bob that Pakistan has the only warm water port that the US can access to ship in its supplies to its ANSF troops in Afghanistan. The other is Chabahar in Iran, Trump scuttled the Iran deal that would have allowed that port to open up to the US. Oops. (Read more from Christine Fair about relations between the US and Pakistan under Trump here.)
Finally, if this aid is cut, it means that education, health, human rights and women’s empowerment programs will all be shelved or will suffer so drastically as to render them ineffective. This will go a long way towards destabilizing our vulnerable populations who are benefiting from this aid (and are quite grateful for it). And this will result in the radicalization of those populations, which is probably the opposite effect that the US intends.
This is tricky business indeed, and there are no easy answers. Robust discussion on all points are fair, even if they are uncomfortable for us to answer. But to issue a tweet like this is not the way to do it. Why don’t you ask Afghanistan why they won’t recognize the Durand line, which would then allow us to secure the border so those terrorists can’t keep slipping back and forth across it?
And if you’re reading this, Bob, I never called you “stupid” or a “moron” even though you tried to imply that I don’t know how to argue with logic.