US President Donald Trump's first tweet in the New Year was an undiplomatic tirade on Pakistan's duplicity. Accusing Pakistan of "lies and deceit," he went on to point out that Pakistan took millions of dollars of financial aid from the US but continued to provide safe havens for terrorists that US forces are fighting in Afghanistan. This is a fact, one that India has pointed out repeatedly to the US. Even as American soldiers were fighting al-Qaeda and hunting for Osama bin Laden, Pakistan was providing bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders safe homes. Indeed, it was in a safe home a mere kilometre away from a Pakistani military academy at Abbottabad that bin Laden lived for five years before he was killed by American Special Forces. Trump's tweet has come in for some criticism. He should not have used Twitter to denounce Pakistan. Neither was coarse language necessary to make the point. Public humiliation and name-calling is not the way to deal with another country, even one that has been mendacious. This is not the way a President or even a junior government official should be dealing with another country. It is unpresidential, undiplomatic and unhelpful.
In terms of content, however, Trump's tweet was spot on. Pakistan has misused American aid for decades. India often drew attention to Pakistan's use of American weapons in its wars against India. It has also pointed to Pakistan's refusal to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism on its soil. These are points that India has repeatedly raised in its bilateral diplomatic engagements with the US as well as at global forums. Delhi even pointed out to American officials that US aid was encouraging Pakistan to adopt a reckless and aggressive policy towards India. For years, the US paid little heed to all that. Trump's tweet is a vindication, if belated, of India's position. Some in Delhi are overjoyed with Trump's tweet, interpreting it as signalling a shift in US policy. It is still too early to see this as a turning point in US policy towards Pakistan. At best, it reflects the White House's frustration with Pakistan, but such frustration is not new.
Trump's tweet has evoked an angry response in Pakistan. But Pakistan's government should avoid engaging in a war of words or mud-slinging with the US. That would only strengthen the hands of Pakistani hardliners and extremists, who are itching to get back on the streets. More unrest is not in Pakistan's interest. Rather, Pakistan's interest lies in the government initiating quiet but robust measures to use American aid for what it is meant eliminating terrorist bases. After all, Pakistan's longstanding policy of supporting terrorism to further its foreign policy goals has proven to be self-defeating.