Of the multiple policy goals that Donald Trump has listed, the one that is of most consequence to Pakistan is his die-hard conviction to root-out radicalism and militancy.
Trump`s unequivocal policy clarity is praiseworthy.
However, he sings from the same hymn sheet, of all his predecessors. Whereas Obama dealt with terrorism from afar, with subtle diplomacy meets stealth drones, Trump will adopt a more aggressive approach. His emphasizing this lofty counter-terrorism aspiration, making it a segment of his inaugural speech, that his very first stop was to the
CIA headquarters in Langley where he re-emphasized this priority, illustrates the importance of a theme he has non-endingly touted throughout a media-frenzied election campaign.
We have yet to witness the actual shape, form and substance of how Trump plans to implement this on-the-ground.
Trump is, I feel, preparing the ground-work for yet another U.S. invasion. This is unlikely to involve `boots on the ground` but rather aerial attacks.
This is an affront to Pakistan on multiple fronts. The new rapprochement between the Kremlin and the White House will certainly squeeze the space of the radical bearded brigade, including ISIS and other insurgent outfits who will need to re-group and re-band, chased out of their Syrian and Iraqi hinterland they are likely to seek succor and safe sanctuary in South Asia, a troubled region whose arteries are already clogged with insurgent militancy. These terrorists pushed out of Syria and Iraq will hide out, from the infamous caves of Tora Bora to the tribal belt of Pakistan.
There they will strategize, plan ahead and re-orient themselves to a heavily congested and saturated South Asian terror theatre. This unholy terrorist migration will not only bring them back to Afghanistan and Pakistan, but once more pose a grave threat to our children`s schools, pristine parks, hospitals and other soft targets.
In Fata and in Afghanistan, which have long been the unfortunate victims of a dismal wave of awakened terrorist atrocities, commencing from the massacre in pristine Parachinar last week, to the KP attacks on the 21stof January, 2017, and in ailing governed cities within the region, militant groups will aim for ingress.
Their back-door unwelcome entry will be achieved hand-in-glove with a most devious and calculating RAW agency upto its usual antics, and maybe even other hostile neighboring intelligence agencies, and perhaps even tacitly be backed by the US, which is now on a head-on collision with China, Washington green with envy due to CPEC, whose scope and theatre will now augment as Trump intensifies his cold war vis-a-vis Beijing.
Such unsavory militants will usher in a new faces of cruelty, scorn and mercilessness in Fata. They will export to the region fantasies of resurrecting a theocratically fascist Caliphate and will endeavor to birth ill-begotten alliances with dozens of local like-minded militants, most notoriously the Taliban.
Despite desperate disavowals from all quarters, Isis is on a recruitment drive in South Asia. This recruitment is orchestrated for financing, geographical spread, autonomy, ideological reinforcement, to spread their distorted understanding of territorial Dar-ul-Islam, and for preparation of an Apocalyptic final battle of the ages, which Isis is persuaded Trump will provoke.
Dangerously, a local fundamentalist group need not pledge loyalty to an existing organized body it may simply align its terror with those avowed by a grander entity, the Taliban and Isis Khorasan in our backyard, deemed ‘valuable’ co-conspirators.
This transmutes the local threat into a global epidemic rendering it arduous for any state, especially Pakistan, to insist that what happens within its borders is for it to sort out without any external helping hand. As with previous Republican administrations, purse-strings are not exactly going to be lavished on Pakistan during Trump`s tenure.
Even though Pakistan is more than deserving given the existential sacrifices it has made to counter radicalisation.
There is a potent peril that the Trump administration will be far more intrusive, bold and brazen in striking suspected targets within Pakistan than its forerunners. This will entail yet more unacceptable civilian loss of life conveniently labelled as `collateral damage`.
There are a myriad signs that Trump will hasten sanitized stealth based surgical drones either directly or tacitly through its regional pivot India. Intelligence indicates that the first informal exchange between Islamabad and Washington`s administration du moment have highlighted the question of ‘groups operating from within Pakistan’s territory’.
Top US military brass in Afghanistan also underscore an urgency to curtail cross-border activities, especially along the porous borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Islamabad`s Foreign Office response must be to patently highlight our mention-worthy achievements such as Zarb-e-Azb, General Raheel Sharif`s accomplishments, General Qamar Abbas Bajwa`s competence in combating this malicious menace, and the sacrifices Pakistan has made to date in tackling this generational threat which has cost Pakistan an alarming 70,000 civilian casualties.
The high toll of this aspirational exercise, has strained our already belt-tightened resources, forcing a much needed reprioritization of budgetary spending.
All such messages, well meaning as they might be, are likely to fall on deaf ears with the Republicans in Washington who will demand their flesh of blood, immediate and stealthy intensification vis-à-vis counter terrorism, and these misfit militants, aided and abetted by the seedy maneuvers of RAW and other unfriendly agencies will hasten their arrival.
Pakistan, by course of necessity, will have to mount a rebranding exercise for credible international messaging and more calculated and appropriate responses to the international community against the Western coalition inadvertently bringing insurgent militancy to Pakistani borders.
To fend ourselves from these pernicious predators and perpetrators new life must be breathed into Zarb e Azb, increased collaboration between Pakistan and General Raheel Sharif`s headed coalition could prove plausible and helpful, NACTA and the NAP must be revamped, intensified intelligence agency cross-co-operation is needed, our Counter Terrorism (CT) initiatives merit more funding, crystal clear clarity on CT must be sought, counter-measures against upcoming imminent RAW threats must swiftly be dealt with, more joint military and CT exercises with China, Russia and even the US for capacity building and operational readiness are fruitful ways forward.
Pakistan`s counter terrorism entities rather than merely deploying hard power via bombing, shooting and killing the more visible shades of terror threat could focus on soft power with positive counter-messaging, intensifying inter-faith harmony based development projects, sponsored both by Pakistan`s military, donors and civil authorities.
Sanitizing the tribal belts via softer intelligence based-operations such as asset co-opting, literacy, education, outlawing sectarian hate speech at mosques, breaking informal financial linkages to terror, deploying more assets to infiltrate dubious entities and even countries seeking to use and abuse Pakistan as a playground proxy for their sectarian scourge are moves in the right direction
The international community, with Trump at the helm, will not wait for Pakistan to move at snail`s pace but seek full-throttle acceleration. Accelerated decision-making apparatus must be afoot, emergency meetings at GHQ called, National Security Committee summits must be held swiftly with key deadlines and deliverables.
Our national attention is so divided at present, from a possible Prime Ministerial demise to the never-ending Panama leaks saga, from an opposition forever complaining and twiddling their thumbs, our media has become an echo chamber and dragged into this non-ending political circus, with everyone claiming to be a ring master, where only salacious sensational lower priority items gain soundbites.
The specter of Multi-National Terrorism must now unite us all, irrespective of political party stripes for it represents a clear and imminent danger to Pakistan. This is a potential existential and evolutionary struggle which requires unyielding unison, cross-party appeal, coalition-building and singularity of purpose.
As Trump warms his seat at the White House, his lofty words must now match actions. US foreign policy will from hereon-wards likely be high-octane charging full-steam ahead. Pakistan and the region must brace herself for rough and tough times to come.
There are scant resources, time or energy to waste. We can ill afford to pander to personal political vendettas as our national security is, once again, bitterly being compromised.