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US Pakistan Relations, Expect Widening Rift Under Trump, Imran Khan

Published Nov 21, 2018
Updated Jun 16, 2020

Tensions between Pakistan and US after the Tweet repartee between Mr Donald Trump and Prime Minister Imran Khan have been accentuated by more rancor as the two sides have been at loggerheads due to the perception in the White House that Pakistan continues to play hardball on supporting peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Thus U.S. President Donald Trump accusations against Pakistan of not doing “a damn thing for us” while defending his administration’s decision withholding military aid to Pakistan invited a sharp response from Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.

“Now, we [Pakistan] will do what is best for our people and our interests.” PM Khan Tweeted.

As an opposition leader Khan has been a bitter critique of the US counter terrorism campaign in the Af Pak tribal belt his core constituency and has remonstrated in particular the armed drone attacks.

“Instead of making Pakistan a scapegoat for their failures, the US should do a serious assessment of why, despite 140,000 NATO troops plus 250,000 Afghan troops & reportedly $1 trillion spent on war in Afghanistan, the Taliban today are stronger than before,” PM Khan said in another tweet in response to Trump’s remarks.

The issue did not end there, Pakistan Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua summoned United States Chargé d’Affaires (CdA) Ambassador Paul Jones to register a strong protest against the “unwarranted and unsubstantiated allegations made against Pakistan” by US President Donald Trump.

According to a press statement, she also added that there was a need for better coordination rather than raising old allegations over presence of Osama Bin Laden in the country. “In the wake of recent US pronouncements to seek political settlement in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US were working in close coordination with other regional stake holders in order to end the prolonged conflict. At this critical juncture, baseless allegations about a closed chapter of history could seriously undermine this vital cooperation,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan Statement said.

Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa also chipped in the morass stating that the country, “has done much more for peace in Afghanistan than any other country”.

“We shall continue to contribute towards peace in Afghanistan,” the army chief said, “but Pakistan’s honour and Pakistan’s security shall always stay premier”.

In Washington however officials seemed to take a calmer line, “We remain hopeful that Pakistan will realize it is in its own interest to cooperate with the US strategy in Afghanistan,” an official from the National Security Council, in the White House was quoted by the media. “The (Trump) Administration has been clear to Pakistani leaders that it expects them to constructively address the problem of militant safe havens in Pakistan,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Because Pakistan failed to address the problem, the Administration suspended security assistance to Pakistan,” the official added.

The reaction from the Pentagon, headquarters of the US Department of Defence was even milder, “The US and Pakistan have a strong mutual interests in the region. As you know, they are critical (and) vital to the South Asia strategy and including the facilitation of a peace process that would lead to a stable and peaceful Afghanistan,” Col Rob Manning, Director of Defense Press Operations, told reporters during an off-camera news conference. “They remain a critical partner in our South Asia strategy and there’s been no change to our military-to-military relationship with Pakistan,” Manning added.

By no means will this be a one-off episode given that both Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Trump are inclined to react instinctively based on preset beliefs.

Meanwhile the US South Asia Strategy is not going well in Afghanistan, as the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford famously said the Taliban “are not losing” and there is no “military solution” to ending the war in Afghanistan.

Pakistan should be expected to get the blame for any deterioration of the situation in the Western neighbour as President Trump will be loathe to accept any inadequacies in his strategy especially if it comes from Mr Imran Khan.

Mr Khan is also predisposed towards adversarial relations with the United States and thus is unlikely to give quarters especially as he finds this earns him brownie points with the conservative religious and tribal lobby, his support base.

Some of his close advisers as the Minister of Human Rights Shireen Mazari are known to be bitter critics of the United States regional policy for years.

Mazari was removed as Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) Director General in 2008 almost a year ahead of the end of her contract in August 2009 for what she claims as criticising US regional policies.

On 20 November she also tweeted on the US campaign in Korea 1950-53 and dropping nuclear bombs in Japan in 1945 as examples of, “aid,” by the United States to partners indicating the level of inbred antipathy.

In the immediate term, the task of special envoy for Afghan peace and negotiations, Zalmay Khalilzad is expected to get much tougher as he had obtained the release of Mullah Barader and some other Taliban leaders who were in Pakistan’s custody through deft diplomacy.

Given the predilections of the Pak Prime Minister and his close advisers and the complex nature of US Pakistan relations, a widening rift under Prime Minister Imran Khan can be anticipated particularly during the tenure of US President Donald Trump.