Following US President Donald Trump’s televised South Asia policy speech last month, Pakistan appears to be in a quandary.
Historically, the bilateral relationship between Pakistan and the United States has been fractious at times. And given Pakistan’s angry response to his comments, the fractures run particularly deep this time.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Khwaja Asif reacted angrily, saying the administration’s policies had been formulated by frustrated generals and that American policy can work only if Washington does not allow the Pentagon to play a key role. He alleged that Washington has made Pakistan the scapegoat for its own failures in Afghanistan.
In his speech, Trump focused on victory over the Taliban and a bigger role for India in Afghanistan. Trump also highlighted the security threat posed by 20 designated terrorist groups active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, saying that the latter often provides a safe haven for militants.
He highlighted the potential threat posed by friction between Pakistan and India, two nuclear-armed states whose tense relations could spiral into conflict. He said another critical part of the US’s South Asia policy strategy was to further develop its strategic partnership with India – the world’s largest democracy and a key security and economic partner of the United States.
Lawmakers in Pakistan were furious. However, it was Khwaja Asif’s anger that dominated the headlines, sparking debates on various news channels. He said the US State Department or other policy-making institutions should take greater control of US policy, as Trump’s approach had failed.
The novelist Margaret Atwood said war is what happens when language fails. If Atwood’s thoughts on war and language are correct, then in the story of Pakistan and the United States, language has already failed.
Forty-six years ago, Afghanistan aligned itself with the USSR. This alignment couldn’t stop the civil conflict despite the fact that Moscow sent in tanks, fighter jets and thousands of troops. The Soviet forces failed to protect their Afghan allies.
Today Pakistan has aligned itself with China and is trying to move closer to Russia. According to Urdu-language media outlets analyzing Trump’s South Asia policy, China, Russia and Pakistan are banding together, and America will soon be ejected from this region. But that is not the reality on the ground.
Militant jihadist elements are being permitted to establish a political base in Pakistan. For instance, the Milli Muslim League, a political party, was recently launched by Hafiz Saeed, the emir of Jama’at-ud-Da’wah (JuD), which the United Nations has designated a militant outfit. The US has put a bounty of $10 million on Saeed, but his political party still managed to bag 1,414 votes in a byelection in Lahore, the capital of Punjab.
Pakistanis don’t want war
Like people in other nations, Pakistanis don’t want war. They don’t want enmity with neighboring nations. Yet those in power have adopted a hostile posture toward the country’s neighbors.
Most people despise the Taliban. They don’t differentiate between the good Taliban and the bad Taliban. When Islamabad and Washington are glaring at each other angrily, people fear that another war could be on the horizon.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan, a front line in the counter-terrorism effort, has suffered immensely over the past decade. The people of this province are tired of war and hate the Taliban with a passion.
Those who dictate strategy should have mercy on them. If there is no Taliban in the Pashtun belt, as the government claims, why are there military operations there? And if there is no Taliban, why there are there drone attacks? And if there is no Taliban presence in the Pashtun belt, international teams should be allowed to make inspections.
A cricket match between a UK team led by Daily Mail journalist Peter Oborne and a team comprising former Pakistani stars, including Shahid Afridi, was played in September in Miranshah, North Waziristan. If a cricket match can be organized in this troubled tribal belt, how come international media outlets and human rights teams cannot visit this region so that the world can see what its voiceless people have endured? This attention is desperately needed because people in the Pashtun belt are often jailed when they speak out themselves.
If Pakistan dumps the Taliban, what will happen? When the city of Peshawar, which is surrounded by seven tribal agencies, was under attack by Taliban fighters its people suffered immensely and Islamabad was in a quandary. General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, then Pakistan’s military chief, was reluctant to carry out military operations in the tribal belt, but he did so after pressure from Washington, and the security situation improved as a result.
The US is now pressuring Islamabad to dump the Taliban, but will the security situation improve if they do? Only time will tell. (First published in Asia Times)