A shopkeeper waits for customers in Kabul on December 26, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Omar Sobhani
A shopkeeper waits for customers in Kabul on December 26, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Omar Sobhani

Mohammad Baqir, 38, doesn’t really know what Twitter is. He thinks it is something like Facebook. His daughters helped him create an account to stay in touch with their distant family. But Baqir, a resident of Kabul who earns his living as a driver, does know that US President Donald Trump recently made a statement on Twitter that made a lot of Afghans very, very happy.

Baqir isn’t a lone voice. Many Afghans are beginning to speak up in support of Trump. The US president may be facing a lot of heat at home, but his tweet against Pakistan is earning him new fans in Afghanistan and India.

In his first tweet of 2018, Trump sent a scathing threat to Pakistan, one that has caused ripples across the region. “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 and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” he tweeted.

“He says what’s in his heart,” Baqir admitted, referring to Trump’s frequent bold statements in the recent past. “But I am very happy that the US government is considering cutting aid to Pakistan.

“We know how those funds are being used against Afghanistan,” he added, echoing a widespread and strongly held belief that the Taliban continue to receive support and assistance from the Pakistani military and deep state.

The Trump administration has been extremely critical of Pakistan, and this was reflected in the new administration’s National Security Strategy released last year. Indications foreshadowing such an outburst were also evident in US Vice-President Michael Pence’s trip to Kabul a week before the tweet, visiting US troops ahead of Christmas.

“For too long Pakistan has provided safe haven for the Taliban and other terrorist organizations, but those days are over,” Pence said while addressing the troops at Bagram Air Base. “Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with the United States. Pakistan has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals,” he stated, much to the pleasure of Afghans who have been pressuring the US administration to take stricter action against Pakistan.

Indeed, Washington has confirmed that an estimated US$255 million in security aid to Pakistan will be withheld this year. “The United States does not plan to spend the $255 million in the fiscal year 2016 Foreign Military Financing for Pakistan at this time,” an official at the US National Security Council told the media.

While the Afghan administration has welcomed the Trump tweet and the follow-up, common Afghans are also cheering the controversial US president.

“What Donald Trump recently stated is a fact that Afghan people have been saying for many years now. No Afghan has any doubt over Pakistan’s deceitful policy and destructive strategies by supporting terrorism in Afghanistan,” Ali Hakimi, a student from Ghazni province, told Asia Times.

Recent skirmishes at the Afghan-Pakistani border, as well as the forced deportation of 600,000 Afghan refugees, have added to the tension and resulted in deteriorating relations

He said Afghans had suffered for long, directly and indirectly, at the hands of the Pakistani military. Recent skirmishes at the border between the two countries, as well as the forced deportation of 600,000 Afghan refugees, have added to the tension and resulted in deteriorating relations.

While Idrees Stanikzai, a political activist, agrees with Hakimi, he is also cautious of celebrating too soon.

“I think tweets are not enough, and it’s time for the US to take serious action against Pakistan, a state sponsoring terrorism and responsible for the deaths of thousands in Afghanistan,” said Stanikzai, the founder of Afghanistan Youth Trend, a civil-society group.

“For example, the CIA and Pentagon know that the Haqqani Network, an Afghan-based militant outfit, is not only supported by Pakistan but its a branch of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency. If Trump really intends to bring peace to the region, he should start with the Pakistan Army,” he said.

An obviously shaken Pakistani administration took 24 hours to provide a carefully prepared response to Trump’s threat. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif called Trump’s reference to $33 billion in aid a fiction. However, he did not elaborate on the accusation of harboring insurgents.

For his part, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said he was “mystified” by Trump’s threat, stating that the United States’ financial assistance to Pakistan “is very, very insignificant.”

Meanwhile, a Pakistan Army statement issued on Thursday, three days after Trump’s tweet, said the “suspension of security assistance will not affect Pakistan’s resolve to fight terrorism; however, it, for sure, will have an impact on Pakistan-US security cooperation and efforts towards regional peace.”

However, Afghans continue to wait patiently to see if Trump’s words will actually translate to action.

“The US has to choose between Afghanistan or Pakistan. It’s like we say in Afghanistan – ‘Du taarbooz da yak dast gerefta namesha,’” said Stanikzai, quoting a popular phrase in Dari that literally translates to “You can’t hold two watermelons in one hand.”

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