Trumping up new warning

Kuldip Nayar, Jan 11 2018, 00:50 IST
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Kuldip Nayar.

American President Donald Trump may be right that his country has "foolishly" given $33 billion in aid to Pakistan in the last 15 years, but he is wrong when he says that America has not got anything in return. Pakistan offered bases for the US military to operate from.

Trump is unnecessarily harsh when he says that his country got nothing in return except lies and deceit and also referred to his predecessors in the White House as fools. During the Cold War when the world was divided into two blocs, Pakistan was on the side of America. Rawalpindi was a part of the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO), an alliance of unlikely allies like Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

The purpose of CENTO was similar to that of the much better known, and far more successful, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) - mainly to contain the Soviet Union and prevent its expansion into the Middle East. Treaty members had to agree to mutual cooperation and protection. But, perhaps most interestingly, given the then political situation many of these countries found themselves in, they also had to agree not to interfere in each other's internal affairs.

As the group's original name - Baghdad Pact €" suggests, its first headquarters was in Baghdad. However, an Iraqi military coup in 1958 resulted in Iraq's withdrawal from the group which, in turn, resulted in a name change to CENTO and the headquarters shifted to Ankara, in a less fundamentalist Turkey. The organisation stayed out of the Six-Day and the Yom Kippur wars, although Iraq was an active belligerent in the former and provided combat support in the latter. However, it had pulled out of the organisation at that time.

CENTO also did not intervene in the India-Pakistan wars of 1965 or 1971, saying that it was an anti-Soviet pact, not an anti-India one. The organisation was finally disbanded in 1979 after it was unable to prevent the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and the Iranian Islamic revolution in 1978.

Justifiably, Pakistan could not accept Trump's tweet and it immediately reacted when Foreign Minister Khwaja M Asif tweeted: "We will respond to President Trump's tweet shortly Inshallah€¦will let the world know the truth€¦difference between facts and fiction." Soon after, Pakistan's foreign ministry issued a statement: "Pakistan rejects such unfounded accusations that belie facts on ground and trivialise Pakistan's efforts for fighting terrorism and our unmatched sacrifices to promote peace and stability in the region."

China, which had long been waiting in the wings, made the most of the situation and stepped in to defend Pakistan by saying that the world community should acknowledge its all-weather ally's "outstanding contribution" to counter terrorism.

Showering praise on Pakistan, Beijing said that Islamabad has made enormous efforts and sacrifices in the fight against terrorism and has made an outstanding contribution to the cause. "The international community should acknowledge that," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said. He also added that China was glad to see Pakistan engaging in international cooperation, including on counter-terrorism, on the basis of mutual respect, so as to contribute to regional peace and stability.

"China and Pakistan are all-weather partners. We stand ready to promote and deepen our all-round cooperation so as to bring benefits to the two sides," China said. It was expected, because China is currently investing heavily in Pakistan as part of the $50 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) over which India has raised objections as it passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. During the first-ever trilateral meeting of the foreign ministers of China, Pakistan and Afghanistan recently, Beijing announced plans to extend the CPEC to Afghanistan, which shares close ties with India.

US-regional coalition

However, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai has welcomed Trump's outburst and called for establishing a joint US-regional coalition to pressure the Pakistani military establishment to bring peace to not just Afghanistan but the entire region. Afghanistan, too, had accused Pakistan of sheltering Taliban militants, leading to a long-running spat between the two countries. China is seeking to mediate between the two neighbours through the trilateral mechanism.

Yet, analysts point out that the US was mounting pressure on Pakistan as it has firmed up an alliance with Beijing by allowing heavy Chinese investments in the strategic CPEC corridor providing China access to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.

But with common interests, it was natural for China and Pakistan and lately Afghanistan, to enhance communication and exchanges. After all, China believes that Pakistan and Afghanistan are closely linked geographically. Understandably, the three reached consensus on several issues, including enhancing cooperation on counter-terrorism and fighting against terrorism in all forms and manifestations.

It was expected that India would welcome Trump's tough message to Pakistan on terrorism. "The Trump administration's decision has abundantly vindicated India's stand as far as terror is concerned, as far as the role of Pakistan is concerned in perpetrating terrorism, because at the end of the day€¦terror is terror, and it does not spare any single nation, any single country, any single region," Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Jitendra Singh said.

It is apparent that Trump is unfolding a new American policy, on that is far-right compared to the policies of any previous US president. The old values are no longer relevant. Eventually, India's own interests and policies may come into conflict with Trump's.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether or not Pakistan can sustain itself without American aid. Islamabad has said that it is computing the total aid received from the US so as to return the amount. But it is obvious that Pakistan cannot.

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