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The USA trumps Pakistan, takes a new stance in Afghanistan

M Serajul Islam | Published: September 04, 2017 19:59:06 | Updated: October 19, 2017 11:08:53


It would be a waste of one's time to explain things that the USA is doing these days in the international arena. The reason is that the country has elected a president who has little clue about anything-not just in the outside world but also his own country, except a grossly misplaced arrogance and confidence in his own ability.  On the campaign trail and since assuming office, President Donald Trump has sent clear messages that the world must stand up and listen to what he as the US President has to say. That has not happened. The outside world does not seem to care for him or the United States that he is leading at the moment.

Mexico and North Korea have underlined that the US President is a paper tiger. Having failed to force Mexico to pay for the Wall, he is now threatening to shut his own government down if the Congress does not make available the money that would be required to build it because this is the only thing he has before him at present to satisfy his racist base of white supremacists and the forces that were not too long on the dark fringes of the US society. Europe is aghast with him as he has been mindlessly dismantling the great US-Europe alliance built painstakingly through two World Wars on which the West's dominance on world politics has thus far been based.

One country that blindly stood by the United States to help it sustain its dominance in world politics has been Pakistan. In 1979, when the US' strategic and geopolitical interests required it to stop the Soviet Union from invading Afghanistan to save its client pro-Communist regime there, it was Pakistan under the dictator General Zia-ul-Huq that had helped the United States in a hand in glove relationship to arrange and organise the anti-communist Muslim guerillas to fight that invasion.  Of course, Pakistan had a very compelling interest to stop the Soviets because after taking over Afghanistan, it would have been the next Soviet target.

That war had lasted a decade that had done irreparable damages to Pakistan, including sending 6.22 million Afghans across to Pakistan and Iran, each sharing half of those refugees. The United States brought an end to the Soviet invasion when the latter disintegrated. It did not bother to even sit with Pakistan and discuss with them its responsibilities for what damages Pakistan's involvement in the US' strategic war against the Soviets had done to the country. The United States, ungratefully, simply stood up, packed and left Pakistan to fend for itself in dealing with the post-Soviet invasion developments that were so traumatic that it goes to the credit of Pakistan that it was able to save itself from disintegrating.

President Bush nevertheless turned to Pakistan as the only country outside NATO immediately after 9/11 to fight the war on terror for which Pakistan's support was crucial. Again another Pakistani dictator General Pervez Moshraff did what General Zia had done; he did not bother to consult anyone except his close military aides like General Zia had done and joined the war on terror without any questions asked. Pakistan was again stuck with the United States in Afghanistan a second time in a little over a decade. The post 9/11 involvement was more devastating for Pakistan than the first war, the decade long Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In the second one, a 2015 study revealed, 81,325-81,860 Pakistanis were killed of which 48,504 were civilians.

The figures included 5,498 members of Pakistan security forces, more than twice the number of US military casualties of 2403! That was not all. Pakistan's support for the US war on terror cost the country's economy according to a report compiled by the State Bank of Pakistan US$ 118 billion during 2002-2018. Therefore, President Donald Trump's recent statement on Pakistan's role in Afghanistan that came in the wake of his decision to, first own up his predecessors' war on terror in Afghanistan, and second, to send additional troops to Afghanistan, made little sense even by the senselessness that surrounds most of what President Donald Trump has been doing since becoming the President in international as well as domestic politics.

In making a major change in US' Afghan policy, Donald Trump chastised Pakistan for not doing enough for winning the war on terror and providing safe haven to terrorists that are fighting the US backed administration in Kabul. It is true that Islamabad has contacts with the Taliban and with the Haqqani terrorist network that is engaged there against the US backed government in Kabul. But, the equation is not so simple as the US President considered it to be. For instance, the rise of the Taliban and terrorists in Afghanistan and in Pakistan's mountainous and largely inaccessible frontier with Afghanistan was raised, encouraged and sustained by the Americans and their intelligence till the USSR crumbled during its invasion of Afghanistan.

The USA had abandoned the region leaving Pakistan to deal with the Taliban that it had helped build as a terrorist organisation (Osama bin-Laden was CIA's protégé during the period of the Soviet invasion). Therefore, Pakistan had to deal on its own except for the military and economic aid that the US continued to give to Pakistan. In fact, during the Soviet invasion, President Zia had said that the US military assistance was a "peanut" compared to what it was doing for US interests.  And during the period of war against terror, the USA and Pakistan worked together to destroy Al-Qaeda, although by that time, the terrorists had managed to develop deep contacts within the Pakistani security. Thus Osama bin-Laden was killed while hiding close to Pakistan's elite military academy in Kakul in an operation in which the Pakistani intelligence was not taken into confidence.

Donald Trump did not just chastise Pakistan, he did even more. He threatened Pakistan with the withdrawal of both military and economic aid. And worse still, he said his administration was actively considering a prominent role for India in Afghanistan forgetting what supporting India while being critical of Pakistan meant to Pakistan.

Former Test cricketer and now an important opposition leader in Pakistan Imran Khan was most critical about the US President on his new Afghan policy and his references  to Pakistan and India  in that policy  while explaining to the media his administration's decision to send troops to Afghanistan. He graphically underlined the extent of USA's ungratefulness of the sacrifices Pakistan had made in its two major involvements with the USA in Afghanistan. He also underlined that with the Taliban now controlling 60 per cent of Afghanistan, the US's invasion of the country has been a major failure. And he said that the withdrawal of US assistance to Pakistan would not have any impact as the US President thinks it would and he asked the President to do what he said he would.

And as for the Trump's plan for greater involvement of the Indians in Afghanistan in place of Pakistan with the US itself negotiating with the Taliban with whom Pakistan intelligence has significant contacts, the less said the better. India, of course, could be helpful in the reconstruction of war-ravaged Afghanistan that it is already doing. However, in the context of the solution of the political problem in Afghanistan where a military solution is now totally off the table, India cannot simply play any role. That President Trump thinks India has a role in Afghanistan by sidetracking Pakistan highlights not just an act of betrayal to Pakistan, it also highlights President Trump's total lack of grasp of international politics.

The US is fast losing its hold on international politics. And countries that the US had once controlled by military and economic aid are no longer the same countries and have progressed far enough to make aid redundant in their economy. And President Trump still thinks that threatening Pakistan with the withdrawal of military and economic aid would scare the daylight out of the country and make it do what the USA wanted. That is no longer true and what President Trump does not seem to realise is that all of USA's military and economic aid have become "peanuts" to the recipients, including Pakistan. 

The writer is a retired Ambassador.

serajul7@gmail.com

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