Donald Trump has made Pakistan happy. Not least because he has finally found the country on a map and now feels sufficiently confident to address us directly, as opposed to relying upon a coterie of lackeys to do the talking for him.
Of course, what the unquiet American has said has been less well received by just about everyone here. It’s a shame really, considering that Pakistan once again can boast a Foreign Minister after a four-year hiatus or so. Despite this, Trump’s comments are some of the harshest to come out of America in recent times.
The first question is, why now?
Interestingly, the apprentice-president’s Afghanistan strategy was due sometime last month, around the same that Nawaz Sharif was deposed. That he waited until the political upheaval here had somewhat settled down may or may not be a coincidence. But what we do know is that the US has long preferred dealing with Pakistan’s dictators rather than its democrats. Washington is happier when dealing with a leader in uniform. Indeed, it was the COAS who responded directly and firmly, stressing that Pakistan can’t be bought and that, in any case, respect and trust are priceless.
Trump’s answer to the Afghanistan and, by extension Pakistan, conundrum is a small troop surge in the former. The move smacks of immense hubris. And it could well be that this is aimed not just at Pakistan but also at NATO. Remember that while hitting the campaign trail the man-who-would-be-president had threatened to take the US out of the Alliance. Thus he may now wish to demonstrate that despite all its combined forces that had once been stationed in Kabul alongside those of ISAF — it will just take a few more American troops and a focused president to wrap up 16 long years of warfare.
All of which remains to be seen.
The second question is, how seriously should Pakistan take this latest show of US belligerence? It’s hard to say given that we have been here so many times before. One thing that stands out this time, however, is this: the overt outsourcing of Afghan peace and security and economic stability. To not only the Afghans themselves but also to the Indians. Outwardly, this may be a sign that New Delhi is still the US strategic partner for this century to counter a rapidly rising China. Yet to us it smacks of a particular kind of arrogance, a new take on the White Man’s Burden. Meaning that the westerners first fund a proxy war, then go in and decimate an entire society, an entire country. And suddenly it becomes the Brown Man’s responsibility to pick up the pieces and glue them back together. White supremacy by another name.
Yet Trump had better beware. The world’s largest democracy is not one to be taken for granted, and rightly so. It will not jump into the fire that easily despite whatever Pakistan’s security circles may be thinking.
The question for us is why have allowed this situation to fester and why are militias the best bet for influence in Afghanistan? The age of black and white security gambles is over. We need to expand our search and build alliances with political forces in Afghanistan and if it means that we have to part with our favourites, the time to do that has arrived.
Trump is willing to take the risk of another round of military setbacks, a growing war bill. The bigger question is are we willing to change our strategy, Trump’s shenanigans notwithstanding?
Daily Times, August 25, 2017