Osama bin Laden in June 1999. Photo courtesy of AFP
Osama bin Laden in June 1999. Photo courtesy of AFP

Donald Trump has once again explicitly criticized Pakistan by saying the country has not done anything for the US. The US president said in an interview with Fox News that the decision to halt military aid to Pakistan was the correct one, as Pakistan never served US interests.

He also said that while the US had been giving Pakistan $1.3 billion in aid annually, in return, Pakistan was keeping Osama bin Laden safe and sound.

Pointing directly toward the Pakistani military establishment, Trump said bin Laden had been hiding in the garrison city of Abbottabad and the whole world knows who was responsible for hiding him there.

Relations between Pakistan and the US have seen a new low since Trump assumed the office of president in the United States. Washington is critical of Pakistan’s role in supporting the Haqqani network of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan relies heavily on Taliban factions to maintain its influence in Afghanistan.

Though Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan called Trump’s criticism unjust and irrelevant, he also said, “Instead of making Pakistan a scapegoat for their failures, the US should do a serious assessment of why, despite 140,000 NATO troops, plus 250,000 Afghan troops and reportedly $1 trillion spent on the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban today are stronger than before.”

However, Khan’s rebuttal does not change the fact that Washington no longer sees Pakistan as its ally in the “war against terror.” The US simply has its own interests to protect in Afghanistan and the same is the case with Pakistan, which of course is protecting its own strategical and political interests in Kabul.

Trump’s cold response and his persistent criticism of the Pakistani military establishment have created an opportunity for Islamabad to revisit its strategy of reliance on the US. But the question is what the establishment will do.

Long history of missteps

The history of Pakistani-US relations is very old. Pakistan became an ally of the US against the USSR in the Cold War and then launched a dollar-sponsored Afghan jihad at the behest of the US to counter the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

During the 1980s when Pakistan was fighting a proxy war against the USSR, it was seen as a very close ally and a strategic asset of the US in South Asia. As Pakistan served US interests during that time, in return, the US turned a blind eye toward Pakistan’s nuclear program and its extremist outfits launched to counter Indian influence over Balochistan and to fight a proxy war in Kashmir.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the US changed its policy and invaded Afghanistan to eliminate the Taliban, and Pakistan was again given the task of supporting the US in this effort. Yet the Taliban had been nurtured by both the US and Pakistan during the 1980s to launch an insurgency against the Soviets. So in a way the US and Pakistan are equally responsible for giving birth to non-state actors like the Taliban to serve their interests.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia was also part of the game, and it used its religious influence and wealth to promote jihad in Pakistan in a bid to appease Washington. The influx of Saudi riyals and US dollars gave birth to hundreds of seminaries in Pakistan from where the narrative of jihad was promoted.

After the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan, the jihadist outfits controlled by Washington and Pakistan started fighting against each other to take power in Afghanistan. Meanwhile in Pakistan, the state-sponsored jihad narrative gave birth to hundreds of extremist outfits and millions of brainwashed minds who thought that the only way to rule the word was through destruction and war.

Frankenstein’s monster

It took only a decade for the majority of these radical outfits, like Frankenstein’s monster, to turn against their mentors, and as a consequence, the US was attacked on 9/11, while Pakistan saw a surge of suicide attacks.

Pakistan ultimately has paid the much heavier price for aligning with the US and fighting proxy battles for Washington. The jihadist narrative destroyed the social fabric of Pakistani society and extremists have taken control over the interpretation of state narratives on religion and constitution.

Since Washington had benefited from the exploitation of religious beliefs and it supported terrorist outfits like the Taliban in the past for its own interests, it never gave a thought that with its support of Saudi Arabia and the military establishment in Pakistan, it was laying the foundation of extremism and warmongering in Pakistani society.

Pakistan on the other hand just for the sake of dollars never realized that by creating narratives based on jihad and extremism it was burning its own self. As millions of minds have grown up under the influence of extremist outfits, state-sponsored jihadist narratives will take a lot of time and concrete efforts to change.

Since Washington played a key role in helping the state of Pakistan to shape these narratives for its own strategic goals, it should now help Pakistan to create an alternative narrative based on peace, progress, and democratic norms. By no means can Washington end this mindset with drones or bombs.

Likewise, Pakistan needs to stop fighting the proxy battles of Washington and Riyadh for financial gain, as not only does this create an impression that it is a missionary state fighting for dollars or riyals but it also brings destruction and extremism in its own society. Pakistan should seek more cooperation from the world in the fields of science, technology and peace rather than seeking weapons or militarily related aid.

The wrong policies of both Pakistan and US have resulted in the loss of thousands of innocent lives across Afghanistan and Pakistan. Had democracy been allowed to progress, things would have been better for both countries. After all, elected leadership thinks of the future, whereas dictators only think of short-term benefits and seek legitimacy to their rule from the world, thus making unwise decisions.

Trump may be right in what is he is saying but he is only presenting one side of the picture. Washington is equally responsible for the extremism and terrorism that have engulfed the whole of South Asia today. As far as the relationship between the US and Pakistan is concerned, it was always based on deceit, in which both states have been cheating each other to gain benefits.

Imad Zafar

Imad Zafar is a journalist and columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.

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