Why we shouldn’t panic – yet
The world initially thought that Donald Trump’s executive order (EO) was just for the sake of domestic absorption to stimulate his typical vote bank. From the very beginning, he maintained a hostile and repulsive rhetoric towards Muslim immigrants under the slogan of making the America great again. His assertions were taken as non-serious and ridiculous due to being racist in substance, as these were contradictory to the liberal values of American democracy that always stood for building an open society, which treats all humans equal regardless of race, color and creed. Almost all of the international media was reporting against his ill-advised political narrative. But despite the odds, he became the president of the world’s strongest nation.
The world was still optimistic that once Trump assumes the charge of the presidential office and is officially acquainted with the ground realities of the local and international contemporary issues, he will do what ought to be done with the acumen of a pragmatic statesman. But he surprised the whole world by issuing a controversial EO, banning citizens of seven countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) from travelling to the United States. He did this, he claims, to save the American people from the Islamic terrorists and to avoid any potential 9/11 kind of situation.
The absurdity of the widely-condemned presidential order lies in the fact that none of these countries citizens were in any way involved in terror attacks in the United States. If there are any Muslim-majority countries whose citizens have been carrying out terror assaults inside the US, they are Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, etc. For example, 15 out of 19 terrorists who executed the 9/11 attacks were Saudi citizens and the mastermind was Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi national, who later lived in Pakistan for several years and was assassinated in Abbottabad by the US special forces in 2011. In the same year, Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American, attempted to detonate an explosive-laden car in New York City. In 2015, a Pakistani couple Tashfeen and Rizwan carried out a terror assault in San Bernardino killing 14 Americans and injuring 22.
Donald Trump has clarified that visa applicants from Pakistan (and Afghanistan) shall face “extreme vetting”. There have also been indications from the White House that Pakistan could be added in the immigration ban list in the next review. The US appeals court has denied the justice department’s request for an immediate reinstatement of Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban. A US court had stayed the Trump’s order earlier. Fingers are crossed on how the dice of the US legal system would roll on the executive order. But considering the Trump’s immense abhorrence against Pakistan, it’s interesting to ponder why he didn’t include the country in his “ban” in the first episode of his presidential activism.
The US is bogged down in Afghanistan and the only way out is with the active cooperation of Pakistan. Pakistan has been enjoying a strategic depth in Afghanistan by nurturing and controlling the Taliban phenomenon since the Afghan Jihad which was a Pak-US joint venture against the Soviet Union. Although Pakistan has enjoyed the status of a non-NATO ally since the American invasion of Afghanistan, the relations between the two countries have always seen oscillating. According to the declassified CIA documents, the worst attack on any CIA facility took place in 2009 inside Forward Operating Base Chapman (Khost district), and it was orchestrated by the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI. The US has always suspected Pakistan of protecting and supporting the Haqqani network of militants against the American interests in Afghanistan. Two Taliban leaders, Mullah Umar and Mullah Mansour, were hiding in Pakistan during their last moments of life. The US has a long list of grievances that makes Pakistan potentially vulnerable to American embargos and travel bans. But US can’t punish Pakistan beyond certain limits due to the latter’s strategic significance in the region. The future of American policies in Afghanistan and the stability of the Afghan regime depend on how sincerely Pakistan plays a positive role in the region – which in fact depends on the Pak-US bilateral relations. Therefore putting a travel embargo on Pakistani citizens is the last thing that must be in Trump’s to-do list.
Pakistan is going to be an important host of trade and economic activities in the region due to its CPEC project which is originally a China’s brainchild. Russia and central Asian republics have also shown their interest in this efficient and cost-effective economic corridor. Banning Pakistan will be taken as a serious diplomatic offensive which will naturally land Islamabad into the emerging Sino-Russian security block against the US, which the later can’t afford at this moment.
As compared to the citizens of the seven banned countries, Pakistanis have proved their worth and talent in the United States. Many Pakistanis hold key positions in the top American academia, organisations and research institutes. Only in the field of medicine, thousands of Pakistani doctors are proving their merit in the top medical facilities of America.
If a racist and Islamo-phobic American president is not putting Pakistan on the list of banned countries despite the odds, it suggests Pakistan carries some unique geostrategic significance, and Trump is not comfortable with that at all. But it doesn’t mean Pakistan should close its eyes and take a nap of content and gratification. It needs to play its diplomatic cards with pragmatism and trustworthiness. It needs to make sure that it doesn’t commit any blunders and misadventures across its borders. Arresting Hafiz Saeed & co. is a wise step in the right direction.