Geopolitics

Will Trump U-Turn on Pakistan?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 19 Jul , 2019

The spectacle of US President Donald Trump walking across to meet North Korean President Kim Jong-un last month at Panmunjom would have amused Beijing no end. By now it is quite evident that Trump’s dream of de-nuclearising the Korean Peninsula is utopian. If at all, North Korea may agree to desist further nuclear testing, though that too is doubtful with Beijing supporting Kim. Should Iran one day declare it has computer-tested nuclear capable, would Trump similarly walk across from Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan to shake hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Sounds absurd but then there are those who feel Trump’s mood swings and daily tweets depend on which side of the bed he rises each morning. Witness after all the huffing and huffing against Turkey for importing S-400 Triumph SAMs, suddenly Trump comes up that Turkey has been “unfairly targeted” for procuring Russian weaponry.

Before the bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Osaka last month, Trump was tweeting against tariffs levied by India on US goods, despite these not violating WTO. After the displaying camaraderie at Osaka, Trump again tweeted tariffs imposed by India were “unacceptable” just before the ongoing India-US trade talks. No immediate solutions are likely from one round of these talks, with issues being complex and given Trump’s attitude. But it would hardly bother Trump that whole of India is paying for the American stance on Iran. The annual budget presented in Indian parliament on July 5, considerably hiked prices of petrol-diesel across the board because India has been forced to stop oil imports from Iran.  But this is not the only price India is paying for Trump’s compulsive obsession with Iran. Commercial airlines denied overflying Iran, in addition to Pakistan’s closed airspace, too are taxing India on daily basis.

The US deliberately permitted China to proliferate nuclear technology to Pakistan, falsely certifying to Congress every year that Pakistan was not making a nuclear bomb. Abdul Qadeer Khan, who blatantly proliferated nuclear technology with crafty Musharraf feigning ignorance (believed conveniently by US administration), was not even questioned by US intelligence. America’s nurturing of Pakistan continued unabated despite the Osama bin-Laden episode. But lo and behold, the recent posthumous apology to Osama by Director CIA and retribution of $18 million to Osama’s family may indicate CIA was poodle faking past two decades or so, but it also ‘absolves’ Pakistan from hiding Osama in Abboabad while US hunted him for years on end. Conversely, even today, despite the non-NATO / NATO ally-like business and all that, US has shown scant regard for India’s strategic interests; India-Iran relations, investments in Chabahar, connectivity with Central Asia and beyond being some examples.

During his visit to India in June, Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State stated that US had made a 180 degree turn on Pakistan, referring to the FATF.  But whether Pakistan will be blacklisted or not by FATF coming October is not the only issue because Pakistan will not collapse given the support from US, China, Saudi Arabia and UAE. After all, the $6 billion IMF relief to Pakistan didn’t come without American blessings. Importantly, Pakistan should not be expected to give up terrorism when it has so much external backing and the military is firmly in control. Sub-conventional conflict with India and Afghanistan is very basis for military to remain in control of Pakistan. Moreover, despite the optimism of Zalmay Khalizad, a US-Taliban agreement would essentially be in Taliban’s favour. Heightening Taliban attacks are indicative of this.   Should Talban assume control of Afghanistan, the Pakistani military will be able to focus more on India, which is why Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is effusively talking of a “new government” in Afghanistan?

The US perceives Pakistan vital to US withdrawal from Afghanistan. This despite all indications that Pakistan continues to support Taliban full hilt and the 10th US soldier has already been killed in Afghanistan within 2019. Pakistan’s support for the recent Four-Party Joint Statement on Afghan Peace Process calling for ceasefire is quite laughable. Capitol Hill may like to believe in Pakistan’s sincerity but events on ground show Taliban will intensify the brutal onslaught unless they believe a tactical pause is better option to kick the Americans out. Pakistan would also be banking on Trump perceiving a role for them in the conflict with Iran. The US Congress doesn’t want Trump to wage war on Iran but there is always possibility to ‘create’ a situation that calls for emergent response; one which the American public will largely support.

Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistani army chief, was in London last month. One of his major tasks would have been to woo the US via Britain. In 2012, British media had questioned whether Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was Sonia’s “poodle”. But there is little doubt that Britain always has been “America’s poodle”, wagging its tail in support of actions to overthrow governments, bombing  populations, interfering in elections, using chemical and biological weapons and assassinating foreign leaders, as highlighted by US historian William Blum, who had worked in US State Department. BBC which is controlled wholly by the British Foreign Office has always displayed a Pakistan bias vis-à-vis India. That is why Britain is home to many anti-India radicals who hold demonstrations from time to time. Wonder if the Cessna trailing banners “Justice for Kashmir” and “India Stop Genocide & Free Kashmir” overflying Headingley hosting India-Sri Lanka match during the recent ICC CWC World Cup too was approved by British Foreign Office.

In November 2018, Niaz Ahmed, Vice Chancellor of Punjab University, Pakistan, had publicly stated, “A terrorist has made up to high rank of the Pakistani army. In fact, he was working for the Taliban and had killed many of our soldiers during the Swat Operations (in 2009)”. Ahmed also said that Pakistani officers told soldiers no to fire on Taliban. In March 2019, Pakistani Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, referring to the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) engineered car bombing at Pulwama in J&K on February 14, 2019, stated, “What has happened in February in Pulwama, is in my view, Pakistan’s finest hour after the nuclear test of 1998.” Pakistan of course denies JeM involvement and prosecuting Masood Azhar who has also been responsible for numerous terror attacks in India including at the Air Force base at Pathankot in January 2016.

The acronym FATF stands for ‘Financial Action Task Force’; it is concerned with financing of terror, not terrorist attacks per se. Therein lies the window for Pakistan to continue generating terror while convincing FATF it is acting against some of the thousands of multiple avenues of financing.   Pakistan has recently slapped terror financing charges against Hafiz Saeed (leader of LeT and JuD) and some of his aides. This is a charade considering the multiple terror attacks Hafiz Saeed should be prosecuted for. Saeed has contested charges of terror financing, of which he may be absolved after the FATF gets adequately fooled. Pakistan has never really ‘acted’ against terrorist leaders. In custody for whatever period, they have royal treatment and complete access to anybody and everybody, as reported in Pakistani media.  India has also pointed out that Dawood Ibrahim, major terror financier is in Pakistan despite Pakistani denials, and Pakistan has taken no action against him.

In addition to Director CIA apologizing to Osama bin-Laden, the most surprising action is the US designating Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) a ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorist’ group. The timing of the announcement is important – just after Bajwa’s trip to London and before Imran Khan’s visit to the US. Perhaps Trump would laud Pakistan’s counter-terror actions in Balochistan and bestow Imran with the ‘Presidential Medal of Freedom’ and the ‘Congressional Gold Medal’. America should also consider instituting a third medal specifically for Pakistan’s support to Taliban. The decade plus of China-supported Pakistani genocide on hapless Baloch population is of no concern to the US. Nor would there be any concern that the concentration camp run by Pakistan army at Awaran in Southern Balochistan doubles as training camp for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Reports of Pakistan using chemical weapons against Pashtuns are being taken in the stride by the US. At the same time, Pakistan is trying to showcase a fake narrative it is sharing intelligence with India on possible terror attacks. 

US portrays, strategic dimensions of China’s BRI are of great concern to it, but apparently wants it running smooth through Balochistan.  Appears, Trump has a role up his sleeve for Pakistan as he wages war on Iran. Finally, will Trump make a U-turn on Pakistan? There is every possibility he will while his lieutenants tom-tom FATF pressure on Pakistan to keep Indian politicians amused. Given the assessment of Kim Darroch, former British envoy to US that Trump nixed the Iran Nuclear Deal only to spite Obama, Trump’s eccentricities appear unlimited. He may indulge in more theatrics as the US presidential election next year draws closer.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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