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America First or Pakistan First

US President Donald Trump in his State of the Union address asserted every nation should have a “Country First” approach which led to the “America First” policy.

On New Year’s Day, Trump tweeted:

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more! “.

The Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khawaja Asif provided an abrupt response:
“Pak as anti-terror ally has given free to US: land & air communication, military bases & intel cooperation that decimated Al-Qaeda over last 16yrs, but they have given us nothing but invective & mistrust. They overlook cross-border safe havens of terrorists who murder Pakistanis.”

“Trump is disappointed at the US defeat in Afghanistan and that is the only reason he is flinging accusations at Pakistan- we have already told the US that we will not do more, so Trump’s ‘no more’ does not hold any importance.”

The tit for tat tweet was followed by a series of US announcements to cut aid to Pakistan due to what it perceives is “double gaming” when it comes to fighting the “war on terror.”

This figure is reported to be around $250m in aid which the US delayed sending to Islamabad in August 2017 until the country increased its efforts to crack down on internal terrorist groups.

Of the US funds allocated to Pakistan, a considerable portion goes to the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), which is the reimbursement for costs incurred by Pakistan for participating in the U.S.-led “war on terror” and supporting U.S. operations in Afghanistan.

Since 2001, the U.S. has appropriated $33bn to Pakistan, according to official US figures, sourced from the Congressional Research Service.
As such, total US aid allocated to Pakistan – both civilian and military – since 2001 is $19.354bn. Total aid disbursed during that period stands at $14.788bn, according to US AID figures.

To supplement the above milieu, Husain Haqqani (Hudson Institute) and Lisa Curtis (Heritage Foundation) produced a strategy paper titled:

“A New U.S. Approach to Pakistan: Enforcing Aid Conditions without Cutting Ties.”

It has been suggested that this is the pivotal strategic document upon which the US administration is framing its foreign policy stance towards Pakistan.

It stipulates that the Trump administration must review its policies toward Pakistan to more effectively contain, and eventually eliminate the terrorist threats that continue to emanate from the country.

The government’s failure to rein them in, threaten vital US national security interests in the region.

The paper seems to neglect the huge sacrifice the Pakistan army has made in countering terrorism in the northern frontier regions via the Zarb -e-Azb operation.

It apportions blame on the principal insurgent groups which enjoy safe havens in Pakistan.

Such an assertion needs to consider that a lot of these groups have ended up in Pakistan because of seeking refuge from the shackles of the Afghan war.

It states that Pakistani military leaders continue to support terrorist groups that attack India to keep it off balance and draw international mediation into the dispute with India over Kashmir.

Pakistan’s seemingly unconstrained expansion of its nuclear arsenal, particularly the development of tactical nuclear weapons remains a cause for concern, especially regarding India.

The quid pro quo- recent resurgence in violence in Kashmir by Indian troops-affiliates goes unnoticed.

The attackers and accomplices from India are not categorised in the same vain as those operating from Pakistan via the auspices of the state or independent of the state.

The paper implies that the Pakistani military control its foreign and security policies with little or no dictation from the civilian government and that to reverse military trends the Pakistani military needs to shut all “Islamist” militant groups that operate from Pakistani territory, not just those that attack the Pakistani state.

I take odds with the word “Islamist” militant groups as this seeks to suggest that the primordial theological roots of the Islamic faith are intertwined with militancy which is a gross misrepresentation of the normative tenets of the faith and this differentiation is critical to the wider discourse.

It accuses Pakistan for tolerating terror groups. The geopolitical situation in the region has led to this unfortunate environment as opposed a policy of state tolerance.

A cost-benefit analysis is advocated where non-alignment with the U.S. will lead to financial repercussions as demonstrated in the recent example where the Financial Action Task Force was very close to placing Pakistan on the terrorism-financing watch list in Feb 18 with a further possibility of it being confirmed by June 2018.

The suggestion that if the US adopts a heavy-handed approach, Pakistan will seek to strengthen ties with its traditional allies like China, Saudi Arabia and explore new partnerships with Russia is not a concern to Haqqani and Curtis as they believe that these nations share the US goal of containing terrorism in the region and preventing India-Pakistan hostilities.

Pakistan should adopt a policy of ‘Pakistan First’ when it comes to its wider economic, geopolitical and global diplomatic interests. Whilst in the global order, the balance of power realities entail that Pakistan is not among the world superpowers, but as a sovereign independent state; its stature, geopolitical importance in South Asia dictates that it is a country that cannot be ignored.

As the U.S. continually reviews its policy towards South Asia, it is imperative that the threat of terrorism is analysed across India, Pakistan and Afghanistan collectively including the roots from where such groups emanate.

It is by pursuing an objective strategic policy approach that seeks to take on board the concerns of all nations that are active in South Asia that the probability of brokering a lasting peace settlement can be considered.

If a bi-partisan approach is pursued apportioning blame solely on one nation at the expense of another, the likelihood of seeing a stable South Asia free from the shackles of terrorism is unlikely to manifest anytime soon.

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