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Pakistan and the US - friends or foes?

China comes out in support of Pakistan saying it has made ‘sacrifices’ in combating terrorism

Image Credit: AP
President Ronald Reagan, right, and Pakistani President Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq are shown as Pres. Zia-ul-Haq prepared to depart from the White House after a meeting, Dec. 7, 1982.
Gulf News

Islamabad: As Pakistan’s top civil and military leaders assembled in Islamabad on Tuesday to discuss the consequences of US president Donald Trump’s harsh warning to the country just a day earlier, long-term viewers of the relationship were forced to tackle an often repeated question — can Washington and Islamabad remain friends or will they turn foes? This compelling question has frequently surrounded yet another question — can the US-Pakistan relationship become a long-term strategic framework for cooperation or will it remain just a transactional one where Washington pays for every service provided by Pakistan and subsequently walks away, if it so chooses.

“This is a very unfortunate and irresponsible statement from [the] US President through [an] informal means on Twitter. US should not forget that Pakistan has lost over 70,000 precious lives besides suffering an economic loss of over $100 billion (Dh367 billion) in the US-led war against terrorism. Pakistan has made huge contributions by apprehending major Al Qaida leaders and yet we remain underappreciated. We are no longer ready to take US accusation[s] for the sins we have not committed. The fact that there is no tangible government in Afghanistan after over a trillion dollar US investment indicates that US needs to rethink its foreign policy,” Dr Maria Sultan, Defence Analyst and Director General of the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute, said.

The unusual abruptness surrounding Trump’s remarks indeed marks a departure from previous warnings by US leaders, notably former US president George W. Bush who served former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf with a tough warning after the New York terrorist attacks of 2001 known as 9/11. In sharp contrast to Bush’s famous “either you are with us or against us” line, which at the least gave Pakistan the choice and space for changing sides, Trump has been more direct. “They [Pakistan] give safe havens to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more,” he said in an unusually harsh message.

The past one year under the Trump presidency has provided ample evidence of a hardening of the US stance towards Pakistan. But the New Years’ day message from Washington has immediately changed the tenor of US policy. For now it appears in public that either Pakistan comes up to Washington’s expectations or lives with the consequences, without any apparent room for manoeuvre like after the 9/11 attacks. Then, abandoning Afghanistan’s former Taliban rulers in a foreign land was relatively straightforward rather than dealing with difficult choices on the home front.

Though Pakistan’s prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Tuesday summoned a meeting of key ministers and the military chiefs, the country’s ability to quickly emerge from a crisis mode in ties with the US remained in doubt. Other than China which has remained Pakistan’s time-tested friend and which on Tuesday publicly called yet again for appreciating Pakistan’s sacrifices in fighting terrorism, there were practically no voices from outside Pakistan in support of the country.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Pakistan had made “sacrifices” in combating terrorism and the international community should notice the efforts made by Islamabad.

“Pakistan has made very outstanding contributions to the global cause of counter-terrorism. The international community should acknowledge that,” Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said.

“China and Pakistan are all-weather partners and we stand ready to promote and deepen our all-round cooperation so as to bring benefits to the two sides,” the spokesperson said.

“Meanwhile, we are glad 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.”

And yet, even in what seemed like a moment of deep despair, there’s too much on the table for the US to cut itself off from Pakistan. More than 17 years after the US attacked Afghanistan and poured in one of the largest numbers of troops ever deployed to a foreign land, the Taliban resistance in Afghanistan refuses to go away. Though Washington’s deepening rift with Pakistan is driven by US complaints over the latter’s failure to tackle safe havens on its soil which are used by militants who attack US and Afghan forces on Afghan soil, the issue is more complicated.

Eventually, a durable settlement of the Afghan conflict will require not just progress on tackling militant activity in Pakistan but also conditions in Afghanistan. Almost 40 years after the 1978 communist takeover of Afghanistan gave way to the country’s invasion by the former Soviet Union, Afghanistan suffers from a range of challenges that have dented its outlook and turned it in to one of the world’s most inhospitable countries for its own citizens.

Periodically, issues ranging from accounts of rampant corruption surrounding key figures in the ruling structure to a complete economic breakdown have all contributed to its turmoil. It should be in Pakistan’s interest to help Afghanistan settle down rather than further aggravate living conditions there, to facilitate the return of more than two million Afghans who live on Pakistani soil.

“US President Trump is known as a prolific tweeter, sending out tweets on foreign policy issues since he assumed the office. But the serious relationship of Pakistan-US does not work on tweets. US administration is well-aware of Pakistan’s importance in the region which is why Pak-US civil and military officials continuously negotiate despite difference of opinion.

Trump’s tweets are rather aimed towards US audience. But the fact is that America, along with the coalition of 40 countries, is failing in Afghanistan and is making Pakistan a scapegoat for its failures.”

Hamayoun Khan, analyst and Director at Pakistan Council on China, said.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s future journey must be built upon a tighter set of reforms to meet the challenges that continue to undermine the country’s own outlook. Militant activity in Pakistan, notably inroads made in large cities by hardline groups, have only undermined the country’s outlook and overshadowed its future.

The time has come for Pakistan to launch an unprecedented battle to reclaim space lost to hardline groups, not just under pressure from Washington but also mainly for reasons of self interest. And it would be far too short sighted for the US under Trump to impose a wider conflict on Pakistan. Lessons from recent conflicts in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan have adequately proven that the destruction which follows an all-out battle only throws up more challenges than solutions.

And yet, even in what seemed like a moment of deep despair, there’s too much on the table for the US to cut itself off from Pakistan. More than 17 years after the US attacked Afghanistan and poured in one of the largest numbers of troops ever deployed to a foreign land, the Taliban resistance in Afghanistan refuses to go away. Though Washington’s deepening rift with Pakistan is driven by US complaints over the latter’s failure to tackle safe havens on its soil which are used by militants who attack US and Afghan forces on Afghan soil, the issue is more complicated.

Eventually, a durable settlement of the Afghan conflict will require not just progress on tackling militant activity in Pakistan but also conditions in Afghanistan. Almost 40 years after the 1978 communist takeover of Afghanistan gave way to the country’s invasion by the former Soviet Union, Afghanistan suffers from a range of challenges that have dented its outlook and turned it in to one of the world’s most inhospitable countries for its own citizens.

Periodically, issues ranging from accounts of rampant corruption surrounding key figures in the ruling structure to a complete economic breakdown have all contributed to its turmoil. It should be in Pakistan’s interest to help Afghanistan settle down rather than further aggravate living conditions there, to facilitate the return of more than two million Afghans who live on Pakistani soil.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s future journey must be built upon a tighter set of reforms to meet the challenges that continue to undermine the country’s own outlook. Militant activity in Pakistan, notably inroads made in large cities by hardline groups have only undermined the country’s outlook and overshadowed its future.

The time has come for Pakistan to launch an unprecedented battle for reclaiming space lost to hardline groups, not just under pressure from Washington but mainly for reasons of self interest. And it would be far too short sighted for the US under president Donald Trump to impose a wider conflict on Pakistan. Lessons from recent conflicts in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan have adequately proven that the destruction which follows an all-out battle only throws up more challenges than solutions.

— With inputs from Sana Jaml, Correspondent

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