In October 2017 soldiers of the Pakistan army rescued a US-Canadian couple who for five years had been held hostage by unknown assailants after being abducted in Afghanistan and taken to Pakistan. President Trump then commented that “The Pakistani government’s cooperation is a sign that it is honouring America’s wish that it do more to provide security in the region. I want to thank Pakistan. They worked very hard on this and I believe they are starting to respect the United States again.” But Trump’s positive attitude did not last long.
Pakistan’s relations with the United States have swung from mutual suspicion to downright mistrust for many years, and a deep dip was caused by Trump’s first tweet of 2018 that “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”
This insulting tirade ignored the fact that Pakistan has suffered some 30,000 deaths from terrorism since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001-2002, which includes 6,687 soldiers killed while combating insurgents. On the other hand, Pakistan’s army and other security forces despatched over 34,000 terrorists to their final save havens and continue to fight against barbarians in many parts of the country, not least in the region abutting havoc-stricken Afghanistan where the US is mired in an unwinnable war.
It is apparent that no matter what may develop in the region, the US has decided to penalise Pakistan and favour India. Trump’s telephone call with Prime Minister Modi of February 8 made it clear that relations are most cordial and that they would “continue working together to enhance security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region,” and in a swipe at Islamabad they “reiterated their commitment to supporting Afghanistan’s security and stability.”
After Trump’s New Year tweet Pakistan’s foreign minister testily observed that the United States is the “friend who always betrays,” although this was slightly moderated by the official statement that “Working toward enduring peace requires mutual respect and trust along with patience and persistence.” But there is no mutual respect or trust, and it is difficult to think of an overriding reason for Pakistan to continue to pander to Washington and accept the abuse and vindictiveness of the most erratic president the White House has ever known.
In February the US proposed to the international Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that Pakistan should be placed on the list of countries allegedly not doing enough to comply with terrorist-funding regulations. Such inclusion would involve unquantifiable financial penalties. There was obvious reluctance on the part of China and the Gulf Cooperation Council to support the proposal, but in the end there was no need for Beijing or the GCC to clash openly with the US, because Turkey formally blocked the motion at the FATF Plenary.
There is no doubt that money-laundering is rife in Pakistan, and that some of this is done by or for terrorist organisations. The government has indeed been dilatory in its approach to combating this menace, but for a supposed ally to advocate financial sanctions is indicative of spiteful over-reaction. One major irony is that the head of US forces in Afghanistan has stated bluntly that in that country, “corruption supports the insurgents” but there has been no attempt by the US to introduce a critical motion about Afghanistan in the FATF.
The United States has made it clear that Pakistan fails to fall in line at Washington’s command. But there is no reason why it should. Indeed, there is no good reason for continuing any sort of cooperation with the United States. US subsidies, grants and aid monies were most welcome — but these were not provided because Washington wished to see a prosperous trouble-free Pakistan. They were entirely self-serving and intended to ensure that the Islamabad government would jump through hoops for the Pentagon. Enough is enough, and Pakistan should disengage from the US (while maintaining civil relations), and concentrate on countries that wish it well.
The most important of these is China whose China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is an important part of its Belt and Road Initiative, launched in 2013. It is creating commercial opportunities for Pakistan and many other countries by shortening trade routes and improving transport infrastructure. Pakistan’s relations with China are not only cordial, they are eminently productive in trade, development and defence equipment cooperation and should be expanded, along with its similar links to Turkey and growing association with Russia.
In January Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, stated that Pakistan’s 2017 membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) would result in “joint work in a variety of areas” and “enrich Russian-Pakistani ties,” which are both desirable objectives. At a time when everything that goes wrong in Afghanistan is held to be the fault of Pakistan, and everything that goes wrong in the rest of the world is loudly hailed in the west as being the fault of Russia, it would be no bad thing if these nations forged much closer ties. The time has come for Pakistan to reset its international policy. It should boost its relations with friends and ignore those who denigrate it.
By Brian Cloughley