No US President has ever been as direct as President Donald Trump, in publicly showing the mirror to Pakistan. In the past, when Hillary Clinton threatened Pakistan to join GWOT or face consequences, she was Secretary of State (not President) and it was not public pronouncement. But despite becoming America’s frontline ally against terrorism, Pakistan continued to play the double game against the US; consistently drawing blood of Americans in Afghanistan, of US allies and Afghans – both military and civil. As of October 18, 2016, total US military casualties in Afghanistan were 2,386 killed and 20,049 wounded, in addition to 1,173 civilian contractor fatalities.
Significantly, the July 2016 UNAMA report had stated that majority of these casualties (in Afghanistan) were caused by the Taliban and groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-i-Mohammed (JeM), Haqqani Network, Hezb-e-Islami, IMU, Islamic Jihad Union, ISIS etc. The horrendous human tragedy continues in Afghanistan with the UNAMA report of April 2017 citing 2,181 civilian deaths alone in first quarter of this year.
Pakistan’s has been playing the double game successfully all these years despite US and NATO military commanders in Afghanistan pointing out what the ground situation was; implying terrorist sanctuaries inside Pakistan must be destroyed.
Numerous scholars, journalists and counter terrorist experts in the US and Afghanistan periodically reported the intimate links between the Haqqani network (major concern of US) and the Pakistani military and that the real problem lay inside Pakistan, from where Pakistan continued to export terrorism across its borders. Michael Hughes wrote in Huffington Post on July 6, 2010, “Nine years, nearly $300 billion dollars and 1900 dead coalition soldiers later, the US has officially verified that the entire war effort has been focused on the wrong side of the mountains”. Despite this “officially verified” bit and Pakistan sheltering Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, US support to Pakistan continued unabated – military, financial, coalition funding, you name it.
A constituency in Capitol Hill continued to nurture Pakistan despite ISI’s elaborate links some 15 international-regional terrorist organization, and Najam Sethi warning in the Friday Times of March 16-22, 2012, “The ISI has walked into GHQ and seized command and control of the armed forces”.
Sure the US was concerned with Pakistan sponsoring terrorism in Afghanistan, but the US Af-Pak policy was flawed in the sense it failed to acknowledge the terror that Pakistan was exporting across its eastern border to India. This happened because the Qatar-based US CENTCOM covering Pakistan had its responsibility up to the Indo-Pak border, while India fell into the responsibility of the Hawaii-based PACOM.
After the US invasion of Afghanistan, this folly was discovered but nothing was done because of possible embarrassment during handing-taking over with respect to covert operations (past and ongoing), as unofficially disclosed by a serving US military official few years back. So, the mistake was compounded, one example being that the LeT raised specifically for India grew into an international terrorist organization that started supplementing downed Al Qaeda leaders and cadres, and is now attacking Afghanistan also under tutelage of the ISI.
The cross-section favouring Pakistan argued that attacking Pakistan (as if it was to be an invasion like in Afghanistan) was not practical because it is a ‘large country and nuclear’, but was Pakistan any smaller and without nuclear weapons when Hillary Clinton had threatened Pakistan, forcing it to join GWOT? This nurturing, cajoling and supporting Pakistan perhaps was hoping Pakistan would not join the China camp despite indications to the contrary; the China-Pakistan embrace is so tight that Pakistan has no compunctions of snubbing the US directly or indirectly.
Pakistan has never found so much mention in any speech by a US President, as it did when President Donald Trump unveiled his new Af-Pak policy in a televised speech. Trump was very direct in saying: Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror; we can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond; Pakistani people have suffered greatly from terrorism and extremism but Pakistan has also sheltered the same organizations that try every single day to kill our people; we have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change, and that will change immediately.
No partnership can survive a country’s harboring of militants and terrorists who target US service members and officials; it is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order, and to peace. Trumps left future operations open ended saying it is counterproductive to announce dates intended to begin or end military options, numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities. His references to India redefined the erstwhile US Af-Pak policy to include India and de-hyphenated the India-Pakistan gaffe. Trump praised the military and the fact that he closed his address with “May God bless our military” before adding “And may God bless the United States of America” meant he truly recognizes the sacrifices made by the military.
Earlier on August 16, 2017, the US designated Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) as a “foreign terrorist organization”, some two months after declaring the Syed Salahuddin, HM chief as a global terrorist. Though the designation slaps US sanctions on the outfit, it may make little difference to Pakistan since the Pakistani establishment has intimately nurturing terrorist organization including HM – both army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa and ousted PM Nawaz Sharif have repeatedly glorified HM terrorist Burhan Wani killed last year in J&K.
However, what matters is that the US decision gives a severe blow to Pakistan which has been projecting the militant group as a voice of Kashmiri people. It certainly bolsters India’s position on terrorism and security in Indo-Pacific region.
The US clamping down on terrorist outfits and their leaders inimical to India and elevating the bilateral relationship by adding a strong defence and strategic component to the already existing operational and strategic underpinnings good indicators. Besides, the US action against Pakistan-backed terrorist outfits operating on Indian soil is also a moral indictment of China’s position which has repeatedly vetoed all Indian attempts to blacklist these terrorists at the UN.
Following President Trump’s above address, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters in a press briefing, “We are going to attack terrorists wherever they live. If you are providing safe havens to terrorists, be forewarned”. Tillerson also said the US could consider sanctions on Pakistan or cut off its status as a major non-NATO ally if Islamabad does not crack down on the Taliban and other extremist groups, without elaborating what sanctions might be considered. Reacting to Trump’s comments on Pakistan, China immediately came to the help of its protégé with the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson saying, “On President Trump’s remarks on Pakistan, I should say Pakistan is at the frontline of fighting terrorism, has made sacrifices in fighting terrorism, making an important contribution to upholding peace and stability”.
Pakistan naturally denies harbouring any terrorists, as bluntly as in the past. On August 19, a team from US CENTCOM visited North Waziristan in Pakistan. Time and again Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security has reported Pakistani army regulars mixed with terrorists undertaking terrorists attacks in Afghanistan, some causing hundreds of casualties that have been termed as “War Crimes” by UNAMA. Now an SSG commando Mudassir Iqbal has admitted on tape that that the terror attacks on a Peshawar School in 2014 that killed 141 including 132 school children was the handiwork of the ISI and Pak Army.
The 2010 revelation of Najam Sethi that the ISI has captured the GHQ was not for nothing. Sitting in China’s lap, there is no way Pakistan will change course. In May 2011, China had warned the US that any attack on Pakistan would be construed as an attack on China. China may repeat that now, but how relevant would that be in this age of hybrid and with what consequences, surely China would understand. So, it will be interesting to see how Trump’s plan will unfold. That there may be some surprises certainly can be counted upon.