On the face of it, President Donald Trump, by upping the ante on Iran and Pakistan, has exposed the underlying intent: stoke fears and add fuel to already raging conflicts in the region through India. His tweets on Pakistan, the wave of protests in Iran and the ‘bigger nuclear-button’ response to the North Korean leader Kim Jung provide clear pointers to the possibility of more sponsored unrest for geo-political objectives. This maverick thinking is likely to spell trouble not only for the region but for the US itself.
Most of European allies within NATO will tread the Trump path with extreme caution – if not refusing altogether because of their domestic dynamics. Nor do the European ethos and its political landscape allow unchecked, unilateral decisions by a single person, particularly on issues that enjoy global consensus such as the capital of Israel.
The Trumpian policy leaves no doubt whatsoever that his administration: a) remains focused on China’s expansion in Asia through One Belt One Road, b) wants to undermine the regional support infrastructure for China and that includes Pakistan which is at the heart of OBOR through CPEC and it is easier to bully and prick Pakistan than to take China head on, c) is at virtual war with Pakistan, Iran, and Russia – all of whom are the immediate periphery of Afghanistan, d) holds Pakistan responsible for all the ills of Afghanistan.
Now that Trump has ratcheted up pressure on Pakistan, accusing it of ‘receiving billions of dollars through deception’, what should Pakistan do.
Pakistan’s response so far has been extremely measured and non-emotional. That is how it should be. A direct confrontation with the US is neither desirable nor feasible. Under guidance from Beijing and Moscow, Pakistan can fend off pressures arising out of a hostile Trump.
In the first place, Pakistan should firmly but politely decline all outstanding and future coalition support funds (CSF) because it is these funds that successive US administrations have used to malign Pakistan for. Secondly, having been at the receiving end despite at least four cooperation/facilitation agreements with the United State, it is probably about time for Pakistan to make continuation of this cooperation conditional with Washington’s conduct vis-à-vis Islamabad.
Top among them are the intelligence sharing, logistical support, use of aerial space and maritime routes for the US-NATO access to Afghanistan.
Thirdly, Pakistan’s civilian and military institutions must collate a coordinated and consolidated fact-sheet on the US assistance to Pakistan since 2001 as well as a separate sheet on the CSF as its narrative on the US-Pakistan relations since 2001. Fourthly, Pakistan, to underscore its responsibility and commitment to pursuing peace in Afghanistan, should devise a collective and transparent strategy in cracking down on all shades of militants and terrorists. Why should police and the army spring into action only after hearing noises from abroad? Fifthly, Pakistan should step back from US-led peace initiative for the simple reason that any effort excluding Iran, Russia and Central Asia will neither succeed nor is it free of doubts about underlying intentions of such an exclusionary approach. Without securing Afghanistan’s strategic neighbourhood, hopes of peace in that country amount to naivety if not stupidity. For an equal member of the United Nations, this must happen as transparently as possible, without proliferating media with anti-US sentiment or invoking jingoistic narratives on India and Afghanistan. There is no way around correcting internal and external policies through an inclusive and credible way under the guidance of trusted friend China and Russia as well as support from Iran and Turkey. Blunting the fallout from Trump requires a coherent and demonstrably credible policy that draws respect from all its friends and neighbours. Who is funding terrorism in Pakistan? Is what should constitute part of the official narrative.