Responding to US

Updated 19 Sep 2017


LAST month, President Trump announced his Afghanistan and South Asia policy. Pakistan was given a strong warning to stop providing safe havens to militants, including the Afghan Taliban/ Haqqani network, who are fighting and killing Americans; consequences for Pakistan and partnering with India in Afghanistan and South Asia were part of the policy.

Trump is the president of America and he has to be listened to and responded to carefully. He may be blundering and ignorant but he has spoken and his words should remove the wool from Pakistan’s eyes for the next four years regarding American treatment of this country. This is a reality we must face. He had harsh words for Pakistan saying that America could ‘’no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations”.

Trump has been contradicted in public many times by his secretaries but in this case the entire establishment seems to be behind him. His initial gut feeling to withdraw from Afghanistan was turned around by the establishment. Now Pakistan should respond to his policy in a business-like manner. It should neither be swayed by the soothing words of US diplomats to soften the impact nor be cowed by America’s growling military persons.

How should one face the US? It is necessary to understand that the US is crucial to Pakistan in many ways. It is a major trading partner and source of foreign-exchange remittances. It has overwhelming influence with the World Bank, IMF and many other global institutions. It is the pack leader of the Western bloc. But this does not mean that Pakistan should cower in a corner. It is not advisable to take the path which Musharraf did after 9/11.

Trump may be ignorant but he has spoken.

Musharraf buckled under George W. Bush’s threat ‘You are either with us or against us’. No nation has been punished or invaded simply by remaining strictly neutral. Did America actually say ‘we will bomb you to the Stone Age’? More likely that was Musharraf’s own dramatisation of the situation to justify his U-turn. Keeping his nerve at that time would have saved us from the hellish hot stew that we find ourselves in now.

A radically opposite approach would be similar to the bellicose path taken by Kim Jong-un, the North Korean strongman. He cares little about his impoverished people or the place of his country among nations. Many times one wonders what the basic issue between North Korea and the US is. If it is about the development of nuclear weapons, nations always talk about such issues. Kim’s behaviour trying to meet the US challenge is childish, ruinous and insane.

Equally childish, ruinous and insane is the disappearance of a very structured White House now lodged in the Twitter world. Just two madmen are enough to terrorise seven billion people of the world with the spectre of a nuclear holocaust.

Can President Hassan Rouhani of Iran be a model to emulate with regard to the world and the US? Yes, he is a good candidate — moderate, sensible and tough in negotiations. He knows the strength and weaknesses of his country and goes forward accordingly without compromising the dignity of his nation. No doubt Iran has certain advantages over Pakistan in international dealings but oil alone is not the reason. Pakistan too has many trump cards in hand if it knows when and how to play them. We are not poor. It is our leadership that is corrupt and obsessed with personal power.

We have lost diplomatically and economically to India. Narendra Modi romps on the world stage collecting one diplomatic prize after another. Trump’s Afghan policy which Defence Secretary Mattis called a policy for the entire region of South Asia means embracing India tightly. The Chinese cover has blown away after the BRICS summit declaration.

Trump is mercantilist and sees only the growing, glittering market of India. His reason for giving a role to India in Afghanistan is that India earns billions of dollars from trade with the US. Therefore, he feels, India should spend part of the profits for development in Afghanistan.

Even informed people outside the loop know little about the existence of safe havens in Pakistan for Afghan fighters. The system is so opaque. Some soul searching is required. If America has failed in its objectives in Afghanistan in its longest war so has Pakistan in acting good cop/ bad cop. Pakistan, however, must challenge the Indian role strongly in South Asia diplomatically without blinking an eye. This stand is justified and defendable at every forum. Put the world on notice and it will listen. This is the moment to repair our broken spine.

The writer is a former civil servant and former minister.

Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2017