Analysts question the wisdom of Trump’s perceived shift away from Pakistan and towards India in a bid to end the Afghan war
ISLAMABAD—A gulf is widening between Pakistan and the United States. On the one hand, Washington continues to accuse Pakistan for problems it has caused or contributed to in the course of fighting the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan, charges Islamabad not only rejects but demands acknowledgement of what it says are the great sacrifices it has made in the fight against terrorism.
The chasm was underscored following U.S. President Donald Trump’s speech this week outlining a new path forward in Afghanistan, in which he called out Pakistan for being a safe haven for the very terrorist organizations which the American military, in conjunction with international forces, is targeting.
“Pakistan continues to house terrorists we are fighting. It must change immediately,” Trump affirmed, adding that the U.S. has been sending billions of dollars to Pakistan for years, ostensibly for its assistance in suppressing groups such as the Taliban.
Washington has long held the belief that Pakistan is playing a double game but President Trump’s latest remarks mark the first time that an American president has publicly warned Islamabad of severe consequences if it does not take immediate and effective action against alleged terrorist sanctuaries along its border with Afghanistan.
In response, the chairman of Pakistan’s Senate, Raza Rabbani, proposed that his government cancel an upcoming visit by the Pakistani foreign minister to Washington in protest. Pakistan’s Foreign Office likewise expressed disappointment: “No country in the world has done more than Pakistan to counter the menace of terrorism.… It is therefore disappointing that the U.S. policy ignores the enormous sacrifices rendered by the Pakistani nation in this effort,” a statement read.
“As a matter of policy,” a spokesperson for the Foreign Office added, “Pakistan does not allow use of its territory against any country. Instead of relying on the false narrative of safe havens, the U.S. needs to work with Pakistan to eradicate terrorism.” He stressed that the threat to peace and security cannot be isolated from the complex interplay of geopolitics, territorial disputes—such as the one over Kashmir—as well as what was described as “hegemonic policies.”
For his part, Pakistan’s powerful army chief made clear during a meeting this week with Washington’s ambassador that Islamabad does not need any financial assistance from the U.S. “We are not looking for any material or financial assistance but trust, understanding and acknowledgement of our contributions,” General Qamar Bajwa was quoted as saying by local media.
Conversely, Washington’s policy shift has been enthusiastically received by the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who seemed to welcome the prospect of additional American troops being sent to the country. “Trump’s Afghan policy has been made in accordance with realities on the ground,” Najibullah Azad, a spokesperson for Ghani told The Media Line by phone.
The Afghan government also praised Trump for accusing Pakistan of harboring members of the Taliban and Haqqani network in its tribal region along the porous shared border.
According to reports, the Trump administration is considering revoking Pakistan’s major non-NATO ally status and cut military aid and other assistance to Islamabad if it continues to provide sanctuaries to these groups.
In the interim, Washington is mulling over giving India a greater role in Afghanistan, a move that could provoke Pakistan to seek a greater alliance with Russia and China. In fact, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua is currently on a visit to Beijing, whose own Foreign Office released a statement calling on “the international community [to] fully recognize Pakistan’s contributions and great sacrifices made in fight against terrorism.”
Rahimullah Yusufzai, a journalist covering the war in Afghanistan, questioned the wisdom of Trump’s declarations. “India’s greater role in Afghanistan will threaten Pakistan,” he stressed to The Media Line. “In this scenario, how can Trump expect Pakistan to cooperate with America in the war?”
Imran Khan, a Pakistani opposition leader and strong critic of U.S. policies in the region, likewise denounced Washington’s new strategy. “Just as India blames Pakistan for the indigenous Kashmiri uprisings when these are a result of its own failed policy of military repression in Indian-held Kashmir, the U.S. again blames Pakistan for its deeply flawed and failed Afghan policy stretching over a decade,” Khan told The Media Line.
Meanwhile, the situation on the ground in Afghanistan remains dire, with the Taliban continuing to make gains in the ground war. The latest quarterly report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, published on July 30, showed that only 60-percent of the country is under Afghan government control while the remaining 40- percent is in the hands of the Taliban or other armed groups. It also highlighted increasing attacks by militant organizations which have taken a heavy toll on both the Afghan army and civilian population. Specifically, the report noted the attack of May 31, when a truck bomb was detonated in the center of Kabul’s diplomatic quarter during rush hour, killing some 150 people and injuring several hundred. The report also quoted U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ statement in June to the Senate Armed Services Committee; namely, that “[America] is not winning in Afghanistan right now.”
In this respect, the Taliban responded to Trump’s speech with a suicide car bombing on a military convoy in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, which killed seven people. Talban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid thereafter vowed to make Afghanistan a “graveyard” for the U.S.
As per the specifics of Trump’s new policy, much has yet to be divulged. However, the corridors of power in Kabul are abuzz with speculation that the U.S. administration will move to privatize the war, outsourcing as much as possible to Erik Prince’s infamous Blackwater company.
While officials were reluctant to comment in this regard, sources said the Afghan government was not likely to welcome such a proposal. “It is highly unlikely we will allow Blackwater to replace U.S.-led international forces,” a high-ranking government member told The Media Line on condition of anonymity, adding that “this would not work.”
After sixteen years of seemingly intractable war, the major question still being asked is, what, then, will work? President Trump hopes that his new policy holds the answers which have eluded so many others to date.