ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday led the sharp reaction by political leaders to US President Donald Trump’s tirade against Pakistan by hinting at review of foreign policy options and asking the US president to introspect on the real reasons for America’s failure in Afghanistan.

Mr Trump, however, looked unwilling to end the row that began with his interview and followed PM Khan’s rejoinder with more tweets in which he repeated the allegations and insisted that the US was no more in a giving mood.

“Instead of making Pakistan a scapegoat for their failures, the US should do a serious assessment of why, despite 140,000 Nato troops plus 250,000 Afghan troops & reportedly $1 trillion spent on war in Afghanistan, the Taliban today are stronger than before,” Mr Khan said in one of his four tweets in response to Mr Trump’s interview to Fox News.

President Trump, while talking about the reasons for ending the over a billion dollar annual aid for Pakistan, said the country didn’t do “a damn thing for us”. He raked up allegations of global terror kingpin having lived in Pakistan with relative ease. “But living in Pakistan right next to the military academy, everybody in Pakistan knew he was there,” Mr Trump said.

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“And we give Pakistan $1.3 billion a year . ... [bin Laden] lived in Pakistan, we’re supporting Pakistan, we’re giving them $1.3 billion a year — which we don’t give them anymore, by the way. I ended it because they don’t do anything for us, they don’t do a damn thing for us.”

Although US aid for Pakistan had been on decline since the last years of President Barack Obama as the strategic misalignment of the two countries grew, but it was after Mr Trump’s New Year tweet accusing Pakistan of “lies and deceit” that the security aid was ended.

Mr Trump has been consistent in his criticism of Pakistan since he launched his South Asia and Afghanistan strategy despite multiple attempts made by the two governments to fix the problems in their ties.

While Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who has been spearheading the most recent attempt at rebooting US ties, had appeared optimistic about progress in ties after his meetings with American leaders, Mr Trump’s latest remarks indicate that underlying irritants that have kept the relationship unstable remain unaddressed.

PM Khan reminded President Trump that Pakistan’s support for the US in the war on terror cost it 75,000 casualties and over $123 billion in financial losses, tribal areas were devastated because of terrorist attacks and millions of people were displaced because of counterterrorism operations that had to be carried out to reclaim the area from terrorists.

He recalled that Pakistan continued to provide “free lines of ground and air communications (GLOCs/ALOCs)” for providing supplies to the US and other coalition troops in Afghanistan. “Can Mr Trump name another ally that gave such sacrifices?” Mr Khan questioned and said the $20 billion that the US gave in aid since 9/11 was very small as compared to the losses Pakistan suffered due to the 17-year-long war.

“Trump’s false assertions add insult to the injury Pak has suffered in US WoT in terms of lives lost & destabilised & economic costs. He needs to be informed about historical facts. Pakistan has suffered enough fighting US’ war. Now we will do what is best for our people & our interests,” the prime minister said.

Shortly after PM Khan’s response, President Trump fired in two more tweets. “Of course we should have captured Osama Bin Laden long before we did. I pointed him out in my book just BEFORE the attack on the World Trade Center. President Clinton famously missed his shot. We paid Pakistan Billions of Dollars & they never told us he was living there. Fools!,” he tweeted.

In another post, the president wrote: “…. We no longer pay Pakistan the $Billions because they would take our money and do nothing for us, Bin Laden being a prime example, Afghanistan being another. They were just one of many countries that take from the United States without giving anything in return. That’s ENDING!”

Mr Khan’s cabinet member Dr Shireen Mazari, who is holding the human rights portfolio, set the tone for the government’s response to Mr Trump’s interview.

She said that the US president’s comments were a “lesson for those Pakistani leaders who kept appeasing the US especially after 9/11! The renditions; the loss of Pak lives in US WoT; the free space for Raymond Davis & other operatives; etc etc. The illegal killings by drone attacks; the list is endless but once again history shows appeasement does not work. Also, whether China or Iran, US policies of containment & isolation do not coincide with Pak strategic interests.”

Dr Mazari is considered a hawk in the PTI government on relations with the US.

Despite the bad blood between the government and the opposition, the two showed rare unanimity in denouncing the remarks of Mr Trump.

Former foreign minister Khawaja Asif said: “We continue to pay in blood for what we did for the USA from Beda Ber to fighting wars which weren’t ours. Reinvented our religion to suit US interests, destroyed our tolerant ethos, replaced it with bigotry & intolerance. A relationship of betrayals & sanctions.”

Former chairman of Senate Raza Rabbani believed that behind Mr Trump’s angry tweets was US unhappiness over Pakistan’s refusal to become part of the ‘contain-China-and-Iran policy’ and to accept India as the policeman of the region. He asked Mr Trump to stop maligning Pakistan, because it was “neither a state of the US nor a colony but an independent sovereign country”.

Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2018