After the Tweet

Spearhead Analysis – 09.01.2018

President Trump’s first tweet of 2018 was solely about Pakistan and he laid out his personal view of Pakistan clearly and succinctly but without a deep look at the US-Pakistan alliance over the last six decades. He may not have said all that he did if someone had briefed him on the quantum of tonnages that have passed through Pakistan in support of the war on terror, the kind of access that Pakistan had given the US within Pakistan right up to the Raymond Davis affair that exposed how this access was being misused and also the level of US combat power generated from Pakistan’s facilities. It is easy to dismiss all this by saying that it was all paid for by the US but that would be overlooking the sacrifices in terms of lives and resources by Pakistan and a negation of the fact that Pakistan did all this because it was a US ally or thought it was till President Trump tweeted and his administration took steps to implement his ‘no more’ diktat.

Leaving aside the emotional outbursts and the media frenzy after the tweet the response by Pakistan has been muted. This is because Pakistan needs the alliance with the US for many reasons beyond the security assistance that has been suspended and Pakistan believes, and will continue to believe till the US tells it otherwise, that the US also needs the alliance with Pakistan. The convergences outweigh the divergences but this does not mean that Pakistan cannot do without an alliance with the US because it can if it has to. The tweets ‘deceit and analysis’ verdict is based on Pakistan’s failure to act against the Taliban and specifically the “Haqqani Network’ that the US maintains operates from sanctuaries in Pakistan. Pakistan has explained that it has gone as far as it could in support of the US without provoking an unsustainable blowback from the multitudes of militants in Afghanistan presently divided but who would unite against Pakistan. Pakistan shares a border with Afghanistan even the part that is not under Afghan government control–being along the Taliban controlled areas of Afghanistan. There is no evidence that Pakistan is supplying the Taliban with weapons or funds or that any kind of training facilities exist in Pakistan—but plenty of evidence that these exist in the ungoverned spaces within Afghanistan. Pakistan has stated that it would act on any actionable intelligence provided by the US. The ‘unilateral action on divergences’ threatened by the US probably implies action on families and children living in Pakistan and among the more than a million and a half Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Such action would be a disaster and would have far reaching effects in stoking hatred and the fires of revenge among the Afghans—and the Taliban are Afghans fighting for their homeland.

There is a clamor for a deeper analysis of the US motivation for staying in Afghanistan and keeping it in turmoil as well as  pressure on Pakistan and inviting India into Afghanistan. The thinking is that the US strategy is linked to Russia and China, the mineral resources in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s nuclear capacity. The conclusion that people are drawing is that the US will never be satisfied with what Pakistan does and the ‘do more’ refrain backed by coercion will continue. Even if this is true, and it may well be, Pakistan still has to act with maturity and restraint and let the game be exposed by impulsive and ill-considered actions. Pakistan should keep a worst case scenario in view and make preparations accordingly. Increased US pressure with no effort to salvage the alliance would then signal the outcome to Pakistan.

Before an unlikely total rupture takes place the US and Pakistan need to consider that there is space in which the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan can work together to bring peace in Afghanistan through a political resolution. General Mattis has emphasized a military strategy that weakens Taliban resistance and forces them to negotiate. General Stanley McChristal has discussed the’ do more, do less and continue doing what is being done’ options and suggests joint US-Afghan operations that he thinks would be supported by Pakistan but should proceed regardless. Pakistan is not opposed to the US presence in Afghanistan, nor has Pakistan indicated an aversion to military operations but it has always suggested that the ‘negotiation and dialogue’ route may be a better option because the failure of a totally military option would mean disaster. In the past the Taliban have opted for survival in the face of military surges and resurfaced after the surge had lost momentum.  Pakistan could therefore be a part of a ‘joint strategy’ if its views are considered and its compulsions understood. This is what is supposed to happen between allies and not threats, insults and coercion. Of course President Trumps’ concerns have to be addressed and he has to be satisfied that Pakistan is doing what it can—for this Pakistan has to reach out to the Trump administration besides the Pentagon and the State Department—and it has to offer to address his concerns by laying out its narrative and strategy in the joint endeavor. This is not the time to gain brownie political points by creating doubts and divides between institutions—cohesion is needed to interact with the US and resist pressures.

Beyond these considerations the tweet by President Trump is an opportunity for Pakistan to focus on its economy on which its security depends. Pakistan does not have the luxury of waiting for the court verdicts, for interim arrangements, elections and a new government being formed. These events and the political activities and media pressures can continue at their own pace but immediate action must be taken by the government and the ‘establishment’ to bring about urgent ‘people friendly’ tax reforms to increase revenue, measures to harness the informal economy within the formal economy and most importantly create an environment within the country that makes it safe and attractive for its citizens to bring money into the country away from the increasing pressures that they face abroad. Pakistan cannot compromise on its security, it cannot jeopardize the gains made, it cannot delay the socio-economic steps it needs to take for the well-being of its people and human resource development for the future and for this the economy has to take center stage without the dependence on band aids of aid and loans.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to an individual)