Pakistan’s leadership angered by Trump’s warning but can do little

Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership have adopted a wait and watch policy following US President Donald Trump’s warning that Islamabad must stop providing safe havens for terror groups.

world Updated: Aug 26, 2017 21:40 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Pakistan-US relations,terrorism,US President Donald Trump
A Pakistani protester shouts slogans against the US during a rally in Hyderabad, Sindh province, on August 25, 2017. Pakistan's political and military leaders have rejected President Donald Trump's allegation that Islamabad is harbouring militants who battle US forces in Afghanistan. (AP)

Aside from top level huddles and protests of innocence, there is little Pakistan’s leadership can do to counter US President Donald Trump’s remarks about the country providing safe havens for terrorist groups.

Over the past few days, the leadership has come out with strong protests against Trump’s statement, saying Pakistan cannot be made a “scapegoat” for the failures of the US military in Afghanistan, and the media has highlighted statements by the Chinese leadership in support of Islamabad.

And yet, there is a sinking feeling in many circles that the end of the decades-old alliance with the US, if it happens, will put Pakistan squarely at the mercy of Chinese whims and wishes.

“Deep down, many Pakistanis are wary of what China wants from Pakistan,” said analyst Hasan Nisar. He said on a TV talk show on Friday that the end of a military and economic alliance with the US “would mean that Pakistan is at the mercy of China”.

Nisar said this would not entirely be a negative development as China also has little patience for religious fundamentalism. “If China confronts Pakistan on this issue, relations between the two countries could be adversely affected,” he said, adding, “And this could spell doom for Pakistan.”

Pakistanis are also angry over what they perceive as the doublespeak of Trump, whose administration has held out threats of aid cuts and more severe measures if Islamabad does not stop backing terror groups operating from its soil.

“Saudi Arabia gets a clean chit while Pakistan is declared a haven for terrorists. How fair is that?” asked TV show host Zarrar Khuhro. He noted that Trump is pressuring Pakistan at the behest of the other big power in the region, India.

This feeling is common in Pakistan, where many believe India has managed to convince the Trump administration of Pakistan’s duplicity. There is genuine outrage at this accusation within Pakistan as people point out the thousands who have died in the country on account of terrorist attacks.

Overall, it is a wait and watch situation. The Pakistani military leadership has agreed that foreign minister Khawaja Asif should go ahead with a scheduled visit to the US, but only after a trip to China.

On the ground, the Pakistan Army has promised to help with the Afghan Taliban. But this comes with expectations that the US will not abandon Pakistan the same way it did in the past.

First Published: Aug 26, 2017 18:27 IST