The Pakistani government has been playing the U.S. for fools since 9/11 and someone is finally calling them out for it.
The United States has given Pakistan billions in military and economic aid since 2001 — ostensibly to fight terrorism — and Islamabad has employed a dual strategy of cracking down on some terrorist groups but cozying up to others.
At one time, we desperately needed a friendly Pakistan when we had tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan and only one viable option to supply them — through Pakistan. This allowed Pakistan to play a double game of allowing us to resupply our troops while harboring Taliban fighters who were killing our soldiers. They also give shelter to the Haqqani network of terrorists who have made life miserable for the Afghan government and U.S. soldiers.
But Trump has had enough and is letting the Pakistanis know they have to make a decision: stop supporting the Taliban and other terrorist groups or lose billions in aid.
Naturally, Pakistan is playing innocent:
“We are in difficult times,” Mohammad Faisal, Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman, tells NPR. “Efforts are still underway to find common ground and identify steps that can be taken jointly.”
A statement issued Friday by the foreign ministry said Pakistan “helped decimate Al-Qaeda and fight other groups” that exploited lawless border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“Arbitrary deadlines, unilateral pronouncements and shifting goal posts are counterproductive in addressing common threats,” the statement said. It urged “mutual respect and trust along with patience and persistence.”
Those remarks were in stark contrast to the stronger previous responses by Pakistani officials.
“The past teaches us to be careful in trusting the U.S.,” Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif tweeted Wednesday in Urdu. “Thousands of our civilians, soldiers, generals, brigadiers and young lieutenants became victims of the war initiated by you.”
It’s true that Pakistan helped defeat Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. But anti-terrorism is a game of “what have you done for me lately.” And Pakistan has done virtually nothing to help us defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan. Why should they? The Taliban is a creation of the Pakistani intelligence service ISI. The U.S. won’t be in Afghanistan forever and when we’re gone, Pakistan will want to exert influence through their terrorist allies.
It should also be noted that Pakistan funds and trains several regional terrorist groups that operate in the disputed territory of Kashmir. India is also interested in seeing us crack down on the double-dealing Pakistanis.
As if to let Pakistan know there are more regional players the U.S. can deal with, U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Juster met with the Indian foreign secretary to discuss bilateral issues. Don’t think that Pakistan didn’t take notice of that.
There is risk to Trump’s strategy to put pressure on Pakistan:
“For all the talk of how the U.S. may finally be taking its pressure to a new level to get the results it wants, pushing harder could backfire in a big way,” cautioned Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center, a Washington-based foreign policy think tank.
“If Pakistan feels sufficiently provoked by tough U.S. measures, it could retaliate in ways that damage U.S. interests in South Asia,” Kugelman said. “The most likely scenario is that Pakistan could shut down NATO supply routes on its soil, which would make America’s difficult war effort in Afghanistan all the more challenging.”
Challenging, yes, but not impossible. There is another supply route established by the Pentagon that is viable as long as troop deployments in Afghanistan don’t get too high. We could also ask the Russians if we could resume the Northern Distribution Network we employed when Pakistan denied transit to U.S. supplies in 2011. But relations between the two countries probably preclude making that effort.
Opposition politicians in Pakistan are demanding that the government refuse any more aid from the U.S. That would be fine with Senator Rand Paul, who has suggested taking the aid money and creating an infrastructure fund here at home.
For Pakistan, supporting the terrorists is a matter of national security. They aren’t likely to kick the Taliban or the Haqqani Network out of the country. In a country as poor as Pakistan, losing billions in aid is not an option either.
It will be interesting to see Islamabad’s next move.