Running with the hare and hunting with the hounds

  • Both sides need each other. And have complaints


On 1st January 2018, President Donald Trump uses his twitter account, @realdonaldtrump, to criticise the US ally and coalition partner state in the War on Terror, Pakistan, for exploiting billions of dollars of US aid through lies and deceit by its inaction against the terrorists. He ends the tweet with a resolve to bring this conduct to an end. This was President Trump’s very first tweet of 2018. Though his tweet wasn’t surprising, as “a president who does not like America’s best allies was never going to smile on Pakistan.” However, publicly fulminating against a US major non-NATO ally (MNNA) with words “nothing but lies & deceit”[1] by a US president. was unprecedented.

The relations between the USA and Pakistan have always been based on a transactional relationship, as there are no common cultural or ideological affinities between the USA and Pakistan. Right from the beginning, instead of establishing a long-term strategic partnership between the two countries, Washington centred its relations with Islamabad on a short-term self-interest basis.

as once said by a seasoned diplomat who had long been involved in the tempestuous US-Pakistan relationship, it is like a “Catholic marriage: There may be problems, but divorce isn’t an option.” – especially for Pakistan in present disastrous economic conditions

In years since 9/11, the Bush and Obama Administrations used “carrots” in the form of vast military and economic aid to win Pakistan’s genuine support to end the Taliban and the Haqqani network insurgency in Afghanistan. However, the renewed US-Pakistan strategic alliance immediately after 9/11 was only able to alter Pakistan’s behaviour to a certain extent, but not its interests. Moreover, despite the fact that the USA has been providing exceptional social, economic and defence development assistance to Pakistan, both its public and military have strong anti-US sentiments. Even Pakistan’s designation as a major non-NATO strategic ally of the USA in the region has failed to eliminate a trust deficit in the US-Pakistan relationship. Though Pakistan provided substantial assistance, including ports, airbases, and ground lines of control, to the US war in Afghanistan, Pakistan never abandoned its support in providing safe havens not only to the Afghan insurgents, but also to Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan’s tribal areas. In his book, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, while explaining the Taliban-Pakistan security establishment ties, alleges that Lt Gen Mahmud Ahmad, then Pakistan’s chief spy, promised him, “We want to assure you that you will not be alone in this jihad against America. We will be with you.” Even Prime Minister Imran Khan, with the full backing of the powerful Pakistani security establishment, has been categorising the Taliban into the “Good Taliban” and the “Bad Taliban”, while striking against the bad Taliban factions in Pakistan, but tolerating or helping others.

President Trump, right from day one of his presidency and even before, has been consistently calling Pakistan out for its “allegedly” non-cooperative and dubious behaviour. As early in 2011, an Indian TV channel reported that “Trump had called for an urgent pull-back on aid to Pakistan unless it demolishes its nuclear arsenal.” Likewise in July 2012, way before Trump’s decision to run for the US Presidency, he criticised Pakistan in his tweet for its inaction against Bin Laden: “When will Pakistan apologise to us for providing safe sanctuary to Osama Bin Laden for 6 years?! Some “ally.””

From a US perspective, seeing the Bush and Obama administrations’ “carrots” foreign policy failure in getting the desired outcomes, President Trump decided to drop the “carrots” and opted for “sticks”; a coercive strategy towards Pakistan. This coercive approach was an outcome of years of failure to get desired outcomes for which the USA paid billions of dollars to Pakistan. Perhaps, he assumes Pakistan as the worst US ally to persevere. On 21 August 2017, President Trump criticised Pakistan’s role in a speech on his administration’s new Afghan and South Asia strategy. Calling out Pakistan on its so-called bad behaviour, President Trump said: “The next pillar of our new strategy is to change the approach and how to deal with Pakistan. We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond.”

Perhaps, President Trump’s aid freeze tweet was part of a broader strategy– a cohesive and coercive strategy– to change Pakistan’s behaviour by collectively increasing pressure on Pakistan’s security apparatus. Overall, there has been a clear consistency and cohesion between President Trump, the US administration and other US institutions on President Trump’s vision, policy, demands and language vis-à-vis Pakistan. On Pakistan’s aid freeze, President Trump’s tweet prompted a simultaneous, swift response across the institutions, including the US executive branch, government departments and Congress. This further validates the view that the USA has been pursuing a change in Pakistan’s behaviour through consistently increasing pressure on Pakistan’s security apparatus by employing a coercive strategy. President Trump’s continued use of harsher language in his statements or tweets is a signal to all the stakeholders at home and abroad, including the Congress, US government departments and the Pakistani establishment to adjust their policies and behaviours accordingly.

As Prime Minister Khan embarks on his first official visit to the USA, he must fully understand and realise that it’s a “New USA” under President Trump’s administration. What the President of the United States of America says, even in his tweets, is not trivial. It has a strategic purpose and direct policy implications, and it must be taken seriously. The Pakistani state elite must decide whether they want to embrace or abandon the USA. It’s time to stop running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. However, as once said by a seasoned diplomat who had long been involved in the tempestuous US-Pakistan relationship, it is like a “Catholic marriage: There may be problems, but divorce isn’t an option.” – especially for Pakistan in present disastrous economic conditions.