THE segue from condemning a domestic critic to rounding on Pakistan was in typical Trumpian fashion swift and bewildering.
In an interview with Fox News that was broadcast on Sunday, US President Donald Trump attempted to dismiss the criticism of retired Adm William McRaven, who has condemned Mr Trump’s attacks on the US media, by attacking the former admiral’s military career, which included overseeing the US operation that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.
In his trademark stream-of-consciousness style of speaking, Mr Trump in a flash turned on Pakistan in the Fox News interview and uttered the fateful words: “Because they [Pakistan] don’t do anything for us. They don’t do a damn thing for us.”
A year which began with a notorious presidential tweet on Pakistan-US relations is drawing to a close on a similar, and surely unexpected, sour note. Serious policymakers in both countries will have to work to determine whether Mr Trump’s salvo against Pakistan is a sign of more turbulence ahead in the bilateral relationship or simply another peevish and self-centred presidential observation.
A US presidency that is nearly two years old has produced some consistently remarkable and shocking behaviour domestically and on the international stage, but it remains perplexing how a US president can so often be so at odds with the policy of his own administration.
Mr Trump’s gratuitous remarks have come just as his administration is seemingly embracing the possibility of a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan. Direct contact between the US and the Afghan Taliban has been re-initiated and publicly acknowledged, and once again the contours of a potential peace settlement in Afghanistan are being publicly debated.
The US State Department’s officials who are working on Afghanistan have engaged Pakistan in intense diplomacy in recent weeks and months, and at each step of the way those officials have sought Pakistan’s greater cooperation.
Pakistan has recently released several Afghan Taliban prisoners in what is surely a coordinated attempt to revive a moribund peace process and help bring the Taliban to the negotiating table at the earliest. It is — and this is no exaggeration — sheer madness on the part of the US president to undermine his own administration’s attempts at peace in this region that will allow the US to extricate itself from the longest war in American history, a war that Mr Trump himself long opposed.
Bizarre, too, is the US president’s reckless flirtation with stoking further anti-US sentiment in Pakistan.
Undoubtedly, this country needs an honest reckoning with its past support for jihad and militancy in the region. Recent events in the country have exposed that the space for rational discourse has shrunk further than ever. Into that cauldron when hostile statements by a US president are poured, the results could be calamitous. Mr Trump’s lack of self-restraint continues to be a danger to the world.
Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2018