Trump aggravations and the art of the cool
Pakistan must learn the art of the cool. The statement issued after President Trump’s meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi could have been drafted by the Indian External Affairs Ministry, so loaded against Pakistan it is. It is a provocation, no doubt about it, almost calculated to rile us up. But we must stay cool.
The United States when not needing Pakistan’s services as a carrier-boy—services, it must be said, we have willingly rendered over and over again—has often tilted in favour of India but never so completely or egregiously as on this occasion.
Still, there is no need for Pakistan to get agitated or excited. We must stay cool. Trump is a maverick and he is doing all sorts of things, not all of them good for his own country. Under him American power is not expanding. If anything, it is shrinking and, on present evidence, the greatest beneficiary of some of his actions is China. Let us put this latest rant against Pakistan into the category of similar Trump flights of imagination.
Pakistan is not going away from the map and Afghanistan will continue to be there towards the north and the west of us. Nothing can change this. The Americans are stuck in Afghanistan, fighting the longest war in all of their history. It is an unsettling prospect for them that they still have not the faintest idea of how to turn the tide or get out of this mess. Victory is no longer an option and getting out is not proving easy.
The art of the deal…here’s an opportunity to test Trump’s ability in this field. Let the new American administration cut a deal with the Taliban, who are now stronger than they have ever been since the American invasion of their country back in 2001 after the terrorist attacks in New York (and Washington).
The bear hug between the two leaders was something to behold as even from the photos you can make out that while Narendra Modi, his arms clasped around the president’s ample waist, was throwing his everything into it, Trump was somewhat more restrained. The embrace on every occasion is part of our culture. We embrace people even when we mean nothing by the gesture. As a politician I soon learned that we were always embracing. I would go to a rally and end up embracing people first before shaking their hands. Anglo-Saxons are not that heavy into the same thing.
And so what if the statement comes down a bit heavily on Pakistan, urging it not to allow the use of its territory for cross-border terrorism, etc? As Pakistanis we should have the sense to realize that as China’s power grows, the Indo-American alliance will grow thicker. The US needs India—and Japan and South Korea, even Vietnam—as a counterweight against China. It’s going to happen and we should take this in our stride.
Pakistan is not embattled Syria. It is not defenceless Libya, or Iraq under Saddam Hussein. The Americans will do unto us what they have always done in moments of stress—apply pressure here and there and give dark warnings of unexplained consequences. We should be able to put up with all this.
What they basically want from us is to fight their war for them in Afghanistan—in other words, risk Pakistani lives, Pakistani lives being cheaper than American lives, to rescue the US from the mess-without-end it finds itself in that country.
Even if we wanted to it lies not in our power to pull off this miracle. We have enough of a task on our hands holding the line against the insurgents fighting us in Fata. We relax our posture, pull our army out of those bleak defiles, and the militants will be back. There is nothing we can do to ease America’s plight in Afghanistan.
The Indians are there in full strength in Kabul. Let them do this trick. Let them lend strength to the weak and corruption-ridden government which theoretically holds power in Kabul but whose writ is weak in Kabul itself let alone other parts of the war-torn country.
This is no double game on our part, what we are accused of playing, running with the hare and hunting with the hounds and all that nonsense. If the Taliban were that easy to lick the Americans would have done it long ago with all their fancy weaponry—the most advanced in the world—and the near-trillion dollars they have poured into this war.
In truth, and to lasting American chagrin, Afghanistan has exposed the limits of American power, as it did the limits of Soviet power back in the 1980s.
Americans who know next to nothing about Afghanistan are all Afghan experts—giving articulate lectures on Afghanistan and pointing ominous fingers at Pakistan. We just have to wait for this moment to pass. The Trump administration has made up its mind about India. It is still trying out different spectacles to get a focus on Pakistan. Let them take their time and we should wait for what eventually comes out of this exercise.
Pakistan is weak in many departments and we could do with major improvements in the way we manage our affairs and do our national thing. But with all our weaknesses we are not a walkover state and now, more than ever, we should not allow others to walk over us.
The Americans want us to fix Afghanistan for them. The Indians would very much like us to fix Srinagar and Occupied Kashmir for them. We didn’t create the Afghan mess and we haven’t triggered the present uprising—it’s a near-uprising—in the Valley and the surrounding mountains.
But in this waiting period even as we carefully watch tensions rising and falling around us, we can hope for one thing: that we better manage our national affairs. Pakistan can do with better governance. It can do with better leadership.
This is why the Panama case whose investigation by the Joint Investigation Team set up by the Supreme Court is coming to a close, is so important. It is not just a Judicial or a legal case. Because it involves the purported financial shenanigans of the present ruling setup the decision in this case will have profound political consequences.
Pakistan cannot afford weak or distracted government, especially when the US and India are coming close, and part of their animus is directed at Pakistan. At this juncture more than any other we need strong and focused government.
For this reason it is essential that there be a quick closure to the Panama case.
The JIT is about to conclude its work and lay its findings before the Supreme Court. Let the axe or the blade or the guillotine fall where it will. The law will prevail….there should be no doubts on this score. Then when the curtains come down on this event let us move on to the more important challenges that we face.