On 1 January, 2018, none other than US President Donald Trump enunciated the key element overriding Pak-US relations currently. Trump tweeted: “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” The Pak-US bilateral relations are bound to evolve within this context of publicly exposing and deriding the nature of bilateral ties by giving, or not, military (or security) aid to Pakistan. The tweet was an expose.
Trump considered publicly exposing important because some countries such as Afghanistan should also know what was going on between Pakistan and the US. The tweeted message laid bare three important points. First, the US was regretting having financed Pakistan since 2001 (in the context of the war on terror). Secondly, Pakistan was doing little to stamp out safe havens of the Taliban extant on its soil. Thirdly, the US was no more ready to help Pakistan financially. The common thread passing through these points was that the (immediate) past was determining the future. On the one hand, the tweet aired the mantra of “do more” whereas, on the other hand, the tweet gestured the future preference of the US. Nevertheless, the tweet asserted unequivocally the allegation that Pakistan had been harbouring terrorists who were wreaking havoc on US interests in Afghanistan.
The immediate challenge Pakistan has been facing may not be in the context of reduced or little financial help by the US, but in the context of living with the allegation of harbouring terrorists. The implied assertion is that Pakistan has been doing this invidious act advertently. Coming to the rescue of Pakistan, China has tried to mitigate this odious twist in Pak-US relations by appreciating the sacrifices of Pakistan in the war on terror but the Chinese advocacy has not convinced the US. Pakistan may be banking on China to be its voice both at the international forum such as the Security Council of the United Nations and at the bilateral level such as the Pak-US relations, but such a reliance reinforces two assertions. First, Pakistan lacks confidence in dealing with other countries such as the US and, secondly, Pakistan needs a country such as China to be its spokesperson. Nevertheless, there is another dimension of the issue. Such a reliance also fortifies the contention that Pakistan has learnt to survive the life of a rentier state. Pakistan needs a master under the shadow of which Pakistan could thrive. The constant is that Pakistan has got inured to the presence of a master: when one master is withdrawing, another master is taking over. Pakistan seems delighted at this turn of events, or turn of masters.
In this perceived shift of masters, another issue rears its head. In Pakistan, most champions of nationalism and independence rally together to condemn the US on its masterly behavior, but none of these champions demands to avoid falling into the lap of any new master. This is how it is interesting to note that whereas the rhetoric of nationalism works against the perceived subjugation before one country, the same zeal of nationalism remains silent on the palpable slide of Pakistan under the shadow of another country. It means that the problem is not with nationalism or the rabble-rousing stance of any ghairat brigade but with the malicious habit of reliance of Pakistan on foreign financial help. The ghairat aspect acts more as a ruse to justify leaving one and joining the other camp; the ghairat aspect does not act to exercise self-reliance by imposing taxes, reducing imports and slashing expenditures.
On 2 August, 2018, the US Congress passed the National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2019. The Act reduced security assistance to Pakistan. The January 1 tweet of Trump was a prelude to what followed. The NDAA has revealed two preferences. First, reduce the security (or the military) aid to Pakistan to 150 million dollars per year. This aid used to be almost one billion dollars a year. Secondly, disentangle the aid from specific conditions such as action against the Haqqani network or the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT). This point acknowledges neither the claim that Pakistan has done enough against the Haqqanis nor the probability that the US has accepted its failure in making Pakistan do its bidding, but it says that there are more vague challenges than the specific ones to deal with.
There is another interpretation of the same situation. That is, the security aid amounting to 150 million dollars a year actually means no military aid. It is more a retaliatory measure than a compensatory or rewarding one. This much amount means that an incentive still persists with Pakistan or the Pakistan army – if to be more precise – to wipe out the Taliban hideouts from its land and get the lost military help restored.
This act of aid reduction, which can be dubbed as a manoeuver, is meant to address two kinds of feelings. First, the Pakistan army is disinclined to end the war on terror under the apprehension that its financial help would be dried out. Secondly, the US cannot do away with the war on terror without the necessary support from Pakistan. The US had two choices: first, to invade Pakistan militarily to destroy the terrorist hideouts on its own; and secondly, to end its reliance on Pakistan. The US has opted for the second choice. The Act has tried to address both faces of the issue: first, the financial help is waning even if the war on terror is continuing, and secondly, the US is no more relying on Pakistan in its war on terror.
If these were the perceived messages, there is a shred of ominous proportion in them. First, the US is leaving the space open for any new Pakistani military leadership to come to terms with the US. Secondly, the US is saying that in case of any surge in the war on terror inside the borders of Pakistan, there will be available no direct, immediate financial security assistance from the US.