In recent days, all eyes have been on President Trump’s tweet on January 1, 2018 which sent out an unequivocal message, that it can not be business as usual with Pakistan, unless the latter takes concrete action against terror groups like the Haqqani Network. Said Trump in his tweet:
‘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 & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!’
Trump’s tweet was followed by the US decision to not just withhold aid of 255 Million USD (FMF, Foreign Military Funding for the fiscal year 2016), due to Pakistan’s in action against terror groups. The Department of Defense has also suspended an amount of USD 900 million of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) money to Pakistan for the fiscal year of 2017. In all over 1.1 Billion USD has been suspended. Kentucky Republican Senator, Rand Paul will be introducing a bill for ending all US aid to Pakistan. Said Paul:
“I’ve been fighting to end Pakistani aid for years. But now we have a breakthrough. President Trump has publicly called to end their aid, and is currently holding up over $200 million of it. I want to end all of it,”
The Kentucky senator has argued, that the money provided to Pakistan can be used for building infrastructure in the US.
Reactions in Pakistan, to Trump’s tweets were predictable. While some opposition parties said that US President’s assertive attitude vis-à-vis Pakistan is a failure of the present Pakistan Muslim League- N PML-N government, to put forward Pakistan’s view point effectively. The PML-N government criticized the US President’s remarks, and said that it was ready to provide audits, and it had been at the frontline in the war against terror. Pakistan Foreign Minister, Khwaja Asif in response to Trump’s tweets stated:
‘Pakistan is ready to publicly provide every detail of the US aid that it has received over the last 15 years,’
In the midst of all this, a number of noteworthy developments have taken place.
First, both Nawaz Sharif ,President of Pakistan Muslim League and former PM, and Shahbaz Sharif, Chief Minister of Punjab province and PML-N’s PM candidate met with the Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman on the night of January 1, 2018. There were speculations of various kinds with regard to the meeting. The first was, that an agreement was being worked out through with Nawaz Sharif would be exiled to Saudi Arabia, to avoid the corruption cases filed against him in Pakistan. This was flatly denied by his daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif however. A spokesman of the former PM also issued a strong denial in a press release. Said the spokesman :
‘He has always utilised these relations for national interest and never for his personal benefits,’
The other was that the Sharif’s met with the Saudi Crown Prince in the light of the recent statements of President Donald Trump, and had gone as a result of an understanding with the Pakistan army. Irrespective of whatever the reality was, it clearly shows that the Sharif’s are extremely relevant, not just because of their political influence in the province of Punjab, but also their strong networks in Saudi Arabia.
Second, Nawaz Sharif, who has, inspite of domestic constraints, made concerted efforts to improving ties with India, had according to some news stories met with Pakistan National Security Advisor (NSA) Lt Gen Nasser Khan Janjua on December 28th, at the former’s Raiwind residence in Lahore. During this meeting, Sharif spoke about the need for mending fences with neighboring countries. The meeting was however dismissed as a false report.
Third, most interestingly the former PM while reacting to Donald Trump’s attack on Pakistan as regrettable, Sharif launched an all out attack on the army and dictatorships in a speech on January 3, 2018. While he blamed Pervez Musharraf for capitulating to the US in 2002. The former PM also accused the army of propping up leaders through secret deals. He was alluding to the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-E-insaaf PTI Imran Khan. Sharif also called for self introspection, and that it was time for Pakistanis to … ‘ask ourselves why the world does not take us seriously’.
A few points need to be kept in mind
First, Sharif who has been written off remains the tallest and most mature political leader who realises the importance of strong ties with neighbors, and realizes the pitfalls of excessive dependence upon one country. During his speech on January 3, 2018 he categorically stated:
“I would like to advise Prime Minister Abbasi to develop a policy that ensures we don’t need US aid so that our image is not attacked in this manner,
Second, Sharif’s aggressive approach towards the army may not be appreciated by many in Pakistan, as well as outside. The Saudi Prince is supposed to have put forward his discomfort with Nawaz’s approach towards the army, saying it will destabilise Pakistan. Nawaz is not likely to cave in easily, and is likely to use every opportunity to attack the army, and will make attempts to restore civilian supremacy. This is clearly evident from his speech on January 3, 2018.
Third, post the 2018 Parliamentary elections which PML-N is likely to win, efforts will be made to reach out to India, since a better economic relationship with India will fit in with the overall goal of Pakistan becoming more self-reliant. PML-N would also like to send a clear message to the Pakistan army about who is the real boss. The Pakistan army will off course continue to sabotage such efforts, but Nawaz Sharif seems determined to make one last ditch effort. This will off course require PML-N to take decisive action against terror groups targeting India.
External forces should stop treating the Pakistan army with kid gloves. While the US has taken the lead in taking a strong stand against the Pakistan army, China too needs to do a rethink of its short term goal of using Pakistan to contain India. Terrorism and instability will have an impact on China in the near run as well as long run. The outside world while being firm with the Pakistan army, should continue to make efforts for strengthening democratic forces within Pakistan.