Turning point in US–Pakistan relations?

Syed Jawaid Iqbal

Published: Updated:

US President Donald Trump chose to ring in the New Year with a warning to Pakistan on Twitter.

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given US nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools,” Trump said. “They give safe havens to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

Earlier when Trump unveiled his new strategy toward Afghanistan, he didn’t mince words while condemning Pakistan. “It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order and peace,” he said.

It’s unclear just what exactly sparked Trump’s latest warning to Pakistan. As one observer speculated, Trump’s outburst was something that had been fed to him by his close team. According to State Department spokesperson Heather Neuert the US has now suspended its security assistance to Pakistan.

It is important to know how the United States will approach Pakistan in 2018. Washington had built a relationship of goodwill with Pakistan over the last six decades.

The country has been a US-ally since the 1950s, especially when Cento and Seato were America’s favorite babies against the Soviets and communism. Even today, despite all the bitter talk, Pakistan enjoys the status of a non-Nato American ally.

Strategically placed as it is at the cusp of the gateway to Central Asia, the Middle East and South Asia, Pakistan does not need to get too perturbed about the situation

Sayed Jawaid Iqbal

A sea change?

But now it seems a sea-change is coming in America’s attitude toward Pakistan. Trump’s senior advisers have been advising the US President to steer clear of this Islamic country. Lisa Curtis, the senior director for South and Central Asia has advised the United States to cease viewing Pakistan as an ally unconditionally.

President Barack Obama too had used harsh words against Islamabad during his term in office but, considering the various ups and downs, the US did not take drastic action against Pakistan. Imran Khan, the Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf says that Pakistan should now formulate a policy that divorces the country from US objectives in the region because Pakistan can find new directions by including China, Iran and Russia in its foreign strategy.

Options available to the Trump administration with regard to Pakistan remains extensive. There could be more sanctions and its status as a non-NATO ally could be withdrawn. But it is also a fact that the US needs Pakistan’s cooperation to enable its military presence in Afghanistan, which is set to expand modestly under Trump.

ALSO READ: Pakistan summons US ambassador over ‘lies and deceit’ Trump tweet

Where will US-Pakistan relations go in 2018 and beyond? Will Trump start a new chapter of ties with Pakistan? Gulbadin Hekmatyar, the former prime minister of Afghanistan and head of the Hizb-e-Islami, says the reason for America’s growing irritation with Pakistan is due to the fact that a new regional coalition is coming up in the region which does not include America.

In a recent interview, Hussain Haqqani, the former Pakistan ambassador to the US, said: “I think that the relationship between the two countries is definitely not going to get any better.”

Strategically placed as it is at the cusp of the gateway to Central Asia, the Middle East and South Asia, Pakistan does not need to get too perturbed about the situation. In a response to Trump’s tweet, Pakistan has said the US was scapegoating Pakistan for its own failure to bring peace to Afghanistan after 16 years of war.

Coalition fund

The fact is that out of the total CSF (Coalition Support Fund) payable to Pakistan for its continued facilitation to the US war effort in Afghanistan, the US still owes Pakistan more than $9 billion.

Strategic analyst Imtiaz Gul says Pakistan’s civilian and military institutions should collate a coordinated and consolidated fact-sheet on the US assistance to Pakistan since 2001 and issue a separate sheet on the CSF as its narrative on the US-Pakistan relations since 2001.

ALSO READ: US general sees no change in Pakistan behavior despite Trump tough line

The Adviser on Finance in the Pakistan federal government, Miftah Ismail, has already said that there was nothing to worry about the US stopping payments to Pakistan. He said the sum of $255 million payable annually against military financing was merely a day’s expenses made by Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments.

It is a fact that Pakistan is the country hardest hit by terrorist attacks, having lost thousands of civilians and soldiers to the violence that has convulsed the region since the Sept. 11 attacks. The country has spent billions of dollars in countering terrorism and is to this day embroiled in anti-terrorist activities. This too costs money and Pakistan spends all this from its own resources.

China to the rescue

There is also news that Pakistan might switch to the Chinese yuan against the dollar for trade with China. Pakistan hosts a major central infrastructure scheme called CPEC and is home to the nearly $60 billion Chinese project which could be a potential game-changer for Pakistan.

Since China is Pakistan’s close neighbor and the relations between the two countries are very deep, it would be advisable for Pakistan to come closer to China rather than hope for any economic or military support from the US which is thousands of miles away.

China has already extended considerable civil and military aid to Pakistan, especially in the military and aviation sectors. The two countries have together developed the JF-17 jet fighter, which is said to be superior to the American F-16.

ALSO READ: Will China, Russia veto US move to slap sanctions on Pakistan?

While Washington has refused to sell more F-16s to Pakistan, China has given the country the capability to produce its own JF-17s and induct them in the Pakistan Air Force. In fact, Pakistan has become one of the few countries in the world whose air forces produce their own jet fighters.

China has also been defending Islamabad’s counter-terrorism track record, saying the country has made great efforts and sacrifices towards combating terrorism though the US and the rest of the international community do not recognize this in a clear manner.

The relations between China and Pakistan, as compared to US-Pakistan relations, have grown because Pakistan is treated by China on an equal sovereign footing and the latter does not show any heavy-handedness.

The war in Afghanistan

What Washington needs to realize is that without Pakistan’s cooperation, it cannot possibly continue fighting a war in Afghanistan – and win it. It will do a lot of good to President Trump and his foreign policy advisors to realize this immediately and treat Pakistan as a friend and ally which has been with the US through thick and thin – and there is no deceit involved.

It seems it is India that is playing a deceitful game with the US. The strategy of its policy-makers and political analysts is to create conditions wherein America gets totally fed-up with Pakistan.

ALSO READ: Trump: US can no longer tolerate Pakistan’s ‘safe havens’ for terrorist groups

Trump is a novice at politics and tends to be bowled over by his advisors, many of whom toe the Indian line. India’s approach is to have Pakistan ousted from its status as an American ally and break its ties with the US. It can then present itself to the US as a huge consumer market. Out of its naivety, once America is dependent on the Indians in the region, they will milk the US.

When this happens, and if Trump is then still around, he will discover that America has been taken for a ride and faces isolation in an important region of the world.
President & CEO of perception management company, CMC, Syed Jawaid Iqbal is a well-known author and public relations guru. Karachi-based Jawaid Iqbal has represented Pakistan at several regional and international forums and has been Chairman, Pakistan Chapter of the Colombo-based South Asia Media Association. He is associated with several social welfare organizations and contributes to leading newspapers. He has also presented TV talk shows on current affairs. In 2003 he founded the Society for Global Moderation – a private-sector think tank, strengthening tolerance, inter-faith harmony and democracy. His book “On Record” was released in 2004. His twitter handle is @Jayeye49.

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