For quite some time, there have been extensive debates about the peace and stability in South-Asia. Many have been seeing it in danger – a nuclear flashpoint- and a threat to world peace. These speculations have become louder after President Donald Trump in his Tweet on the eve of New Year ‘chastised Pakistan for receiving 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years from his country and in return giving nothing but lies and deceit.’
The language used in the Tweet was pedestrian and humiliatingly bullish. It did not stop at the Tweet only but was followed by the suspension of the entire two billion security assistance to Pakistan. Nonetheless, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert clarified the cut-off is not permanent and only affects military assistance. Admitting Pakistan has been ‘helpful’ she left scope for a dialogue between the two countries. Of course, she put a caveat on it; Pakistan stopping the terrorist groups inimical to American interest in Afghanistan from operating its soil. It also placed Pakistan on a special watch list “for severe violations of religious freedom” along with Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
The New Year Tweet of Donald Trump followed by the suspension of security assistance has stirred a lot of resentment and anger in public in Pakistan. It equally has caused a spate of statements from the political leadership and other important institution of the country. The tone and tenor of these statements suggest, that the country feels deeply concerned about yet another deep dip in its relations with a country, it believes has been its oldest ally and friend.
Since Pakistan in mid-fifties entered into an alliance with America there have been more of troughs and less of crests in the relations between the two countries. But, despite more dips in their relations, the two countries sailed across through the cold war period without any complaints against each other. As rightly pointed out by Shirin R. Tahir-Kheli in her book, ‘India-Pakistan and United States, ‘the alliance gave Pakistan a measure of protection against Soviet threats.’ It supported the right to self-determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir in the UN Security Council.
Moreover, when Moscow continuously used the veto against the resolution of Kashmir, Washington tried to resolve the dispute outside the United Nations. ‘From the fifties, every US president offered to mediate. John F Kennedy, who was friendly to India, first offered to direct meditation resolve to the Kashmir problem. Then in a note to Nehru and Ayub Khan, he suggested Mr. Eugene Black as mediator.’ Notwithstanding, priorities of Washington in the region after the India and China conflict undergoing a paradigm shift, it prevented the two countries from fighting each other- despite an opinion in a powerful section in Pakistan that “it should rush its troops into Kashmir.” Instead, Washington nudged them for a dialogue on Kashmir resulting in six rounds of Bhutto- Swaran Singh talks. It even proposed a division of the state, with a proviso for allowing a corridor to India through Kashmir Valley for carrying military supplies to Ladakh. To counter Soviet influence in the region China played an important role as Pakistan’s friend and supporter. “In 1971, India Signed a Treaty of Friendship with the Soviet Union that proved useful during that year’s Indo-Pak War and subsequent creation of Bangladesh.” Writes Shirin Indian born American scholar and member of Council on Foreign Relations. Instead of supporting its allay America at this critical juncture chose to distance itself from the country.
‘In the 1980s, when the clash of American and Soviet interests erupted in Afghanistan, Washington again enlisted the support of Pakistan in the anti-Soviet campaign. Pakistan leadership, in fact, jumped whole-hog into it, to the terrifying disadvantage of their country. In the words of an acclaimed Pakistani commentator, “It brought the country a witches’ brew of problems: induction of Islamic militancy, the proliferation of weapons”, and scores of major spiraling problems at the cost of country’s stability. The defeat of Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the sudden disappearance of America from the scene leaving behind a plethora of problems for Pakistan did not end the Afghan crisis. In fact, its fallout was deadlier for Pakistan in as much as, there was mushrooming of terrorist organizations in the country. After the 9/11, terrorist attack on twin towers Pakistan not learning from the past once again got involved in the US-led war on terror in Afghanistan. In her book, ‘Pakistan Beyond the Crisis’, a journalist turned diplomat Dr. Maleeha Lodhi rightly writes, “The twin and the connected crisis of security and solvency that Pakistan is struggling with today are in part fallout of the protracted conflict in Afghanistan.”
Notwithstanding, the chequered history of relations between the two countries and Washington having used its aid to the Islamabad in the past also many for checkmating it, the New Year Tweet seems to have put Pakistan government and the feuding leadership of the country on toes. On Saturday, Pakistan Foreign Office in a statement stated that ‘the country was determined to continue to do all it takes to secure the lives of citizens and broader stability in the region’. The media reports suggest that there are strong apprehensions in the country about Afghanistan, India, and America joining hands to harm the interests of Pakistan that could destabilize and endanger the security of the region. Some commentators, are seeing the emergence of a new alliance between Moscow, Beijing, and Islamabad for skirting the designs of Washington in the region. Because of its geo-strategic importance calling Pakistan of “vital importance to the region”, an American scholar and former Ambassador of Pakistan Prof. Akbar S Ahmed in an interview told CNN, “It is prudent and wise for diplomats in America not to put Pakistan into the arms of other regional powers willing to take it on board.”
Some important analyst and experts on the US-Pakistan relations do not view President Trumps New Year Tweet as seriously as people in Pakistan. Their belief is that his Tweets are mostly made on the spur of the moment and very often impulsive and later on reconciled. To quote from Andrew Levine’s article ‘In Search Of Trump’s Ideology’, published on Jan 5, in CounterPunch, “Indeed, Trump has no settled political convictions. How could he? If his tweets are any indication, he cannot even hold a thought for more than a day or two. He just goes with whatever is on his mind.”
Whether one should dismiss Trump’s Tweet as one made on the spur of the moment or as one that can be of far greater consequences to the safety and security of the South-Asia, important players of the region should not fall in the trap. India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are important players in the region. To ensure peace in the region and not to allow it go the Middle East way, instead of scoring points at each other and engaging in games of showdowns they should resolve all their Disputes through peaceful negotiations- with China, Russia, and Iran on board.
-Z. G. Muhammad is a columnist born in Nowhatta, Srinagar, Kashmir