Ties between Pakistan and the United States instead of improving, have nosedived with President Donald Trump charging Pakistan with protecting Osama bin Laden and the Pakistani prime minister retorting that Islamabad inflicted heavy damages on itself by becoming part of the Washington-led war on terror.
President Donald Trump during an interview to Fox News said that Pakistan did nothing for the US in the WoT. Pakistan did not do “a damn thing for us.” He also said while referring to Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden that the global terror kingpin had lived in Pakistan with relative ease. “But living in Pakistan right next to the military academy, everybody in Pakistan knew he was there.” This is an irrational and irresponsible allegation by Trump against Pakistan. It is not just that Pakistanis may so believe, but former US President Barrack Obama and his Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton and John Kerry, late Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, or even no US military general have ever charged Pakistan with having shielded Osama. Without any doubt, Osama was located by personnel of the US Special Operations Forces (SoF) in Abbotabad and killed in an operation very close to the Pakistan Military Academy, but it would be insane on the part of the Pakistan military leadership to have provided shelter to Osama at such a sensitive place. However, President Trump with his trumped up charges against Pakistan expressed his ignorance of the situation and his deliberate effort to malign Pakistan and ignore the enormous losses Pakistan has suffered in America’s so-called war on terror.
The relations between Pakistan and the US have been on an uneven heel for the last many years particularly after coming into power of the sitting president Donald Trump in January 2016. During Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama’s eight-year long tenure as president of the US, the relations between the two states remained strained, particularly when on May 2, 2012, the US Special Operation Forces (SoFs) carried out an airborne operation from their bases in Afghanistan on the Pakistani city of Abbotabad to kill Al Qaeda founder, Osama bin Laden, who was hiding in a compound there. However during Obama’s era there were also cooperative engagements between the two states. But since Trump came into power, he has taken a very stiff stance regarding Pakistan. On the one hand, Washington under Trump has been blaming Pakistan for providing hideouts to the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan Haqqani Network on its soil; these groups’ militants have been inflicting critical losses on US and coalition forces in Afghanistan. On the other hand, the Trump administration has been mounting pressure on Pakistan to deliver more on US demands for defeating the Taliban insurgency.
Donald Trump during the interview with Fox News also said that his administration stopped aid to Pakistan because the latter did nothing to help the US fight the WoT. To this our Prime Minister Imran Khan made an apt and timely rejoinder by stating that Pakistan lost $ 123billion since it joined the US WoT in 2001, while also giving the sacrifice of 75,000 of its civilians and security forces personnel in the war. PM Khan said in return Washington gave Pakistan just a paltry $20billion for becoming its ally. He also asked Trump to name any other ally which may have sacrificed so much for the sake of Washington. While declaring that Pakistan could not be made a scapegoat for Washington and its Western allies’ failures in Afghanistan, now Pakistan would be part of the WoT keeping only its own interest in view. This is, indeed, a bold statement by PM Khan and serves notice on America that Pakistan is not prepared to be bullied by the US.
Insofar as the allegation of President Trump that Osama was living in Pakistan in the shadow of the military academy is concerned, this is an illogical charge if one knows the history of Pakistan’s contribution to the WoT. It was Pakistan which nabbed, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the mastermind of the September 9-11 terrorist attacks in the US from Rawalpindi and handed him over to American authorities while also arresting many other Al Qaeda operatives on its soil. Had Pakistan’s cooperation not been there, Washington could never have neutralized the threat from the largest global terrorist organization. One does not think that President Trump’s statement should be taken very seriously because all other important American leaders have recognized the critical role of Islamabad in the WoT.
Noticeably, President Trump’s statement regarding Pakistan came at a time when Washington was directly engaged with the Afghan Taliban in Doha, Qatar. It is Pakistan which facilitated the negotiations between Washington and the Taliban. Now when the top US interlocutor, Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad, is hoping that a breakthrough between the two sides is possible within the next five months such a statement by President Trump is tantamount to torpedoing the prospect of a breakthrough. President Trump’s statement is a manifestation of his administration’s frustration regarding the war in Afghanistan. As reminded by PM Khan, Washington has to revisit its policy in Afghanistan as after spending more than one trillion dollars of Americans taxpayers’ money deploying 140,000 NATO troops and raising nearly a 0.3 million strong Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) it could not defeat the Taliban. Washington’s frustration with its war in Afghanistan is evident from the fact that on the one hand it wants to have peace with the Taliban and on the other hand the key to peace in Afghanistan, Pakistan, is being charged with working against US interests.
In the words of former US President Obama, Pakistan is a very important state and President Trump must also realize it. Because the stability of the entire South Asian region, Afghanistan and even the greater Middle East is dependent on the stability and development of Pakistan. Therefore, any effort by any power to destabilize Pakistan may not be in the long term interest of Washington.
Apart from the strategic and diplomatic importance of Pakistan for the US, it is also potentially economically significant from Washington’s standpoint. Because Pakistan geographically sits on the crossroads of South and Central Asia and the greater Middle East and Washington has substantial economic interests in Central Asia. There should not be two opinions that in recent years, the US’s growing relations with India have reduced the significance of Pakistan for Washington. However, it has been our poor diplomacy which could not persuade the US of the geostrategic importance of Pakistan, which has nothing to do with Indo-US relations, and for which India cannot be a substitute.
Although there are no permenant friends or foes in international politics, the nature of bilateral relations between US and Pakistan are such that they can mutually ill-afford to be in a conflictual state.
The US cannot arrive at a peace agreement with the Taliban, in Afghanistan, without the co-operation of Pakistan. However, it must also be remembered that the latter is not only crucial for achieving peace in Afghanistan, but Pakistan’s role is also central to the sustainability of peace in that country and, indeed, the whole South Asian region.