U.S. President Donald Trump’s first tweet of 2018, in which he accused Pakistan of “lies & deceit” and giving “safe haven to the terrorists,” is a New Year’s gift for Islamabad. The fact that there is nothing new, or indeed surprising, in Trump’s message is the ideal wrapping for the present.
Not only has the rather outrageously worded tweet united all in Pakistan, most notably the civil and military leaderships with the latter having asked the United States to “do more” as recently as Thursday, but messages of support have come from overseas as well – including, of course, China.
Trump’s tirade has given new life to Pakistan’s victim narrative in the War on Terror, which is centered around ridding Islamabad of any responsibility in the post 9/11 violence in South Asia, and pinning the entire blame on the United States, India, and Afghanistan – in that order.
That Pakistan has suffered mammoth losses, and paid irreversible human cost, in the past couple of decades is an undeniable reality. However, for Islamabad to paint that as a corollary of anything but the state’s own duplicitous counterterrorism policy, its shielding of jihadists as foreign policy tools and abuse of foreign funding, is but a shameful denial.
But that’s precisely what Trump’s tweet has allowed Islamabad to do: tout the lost lives as entirely Washington’s doing, and point to the shared “land and air spaces” along with “military intel” in the War on Terror, while simultaneously claiming that Pakistan should never have entered the war to begin with.
The Trump regime’s policy on Pakistan was crystal clear even during his presidential campaign, and goes back even further to Republican dominance over both chambers of Congress. The first sign of a standoff came two years ago, with the congressional objection over subsidizing Pakistan’s F-16s through Foreign Military Financing (FMF).
Even by repeating old accusations, Trump has done Islamabad a massive favor by making Pakistan his first subject of choice in the new year in a rhetoric-filled rant on Twitter – a medium where the U.S. president comes across more as an obsessive, badmouthed troll than a world leader.
A more sophisticated and better-timed message would’ve put Islamabad further on the back foot at a time when even Palestine is distancing itself from Pakistan’s support for ideologically similar Kashmir-bound jihadist groups, which are currently rallying against Trump’s Jerusalem move.
Instead, the civilian rulers, which are clinging on to the government by the skin of their teeth amidst a military-led Islamist takeover of the country, have not only conducted a national security committee meeting with the same Army leadership but have even summoned the U.S. ambassador to explain Trump’s tweet.
This moral high ground, gifted on a platter by Trump, will further give Islamabad the fodder to accuse New Delhi of interfering in Pakistan and lobbying against it, by rehashing its accusations of the U.S. “speaking India’s language.”
2018 being an election year means that anti-India rhetoric would’ve simmered in the country anyway, but the fact that Indo-Pak ties have traced their nadir recently means that both the civil and military leaderships will now have found further common ground.
Trump’s tweet would also allow the civil and military leaderships to unite in seeking Chinese help in filling the void – especially militarily and financially – that Washington backing out would leave. At a time when Beijing itself is wary of Pakistan’s security situation with the future of multiple China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects at stake, this joint effort is likely to yield more positive results for Islamabad.
Furthermore, with Trump already being accused of stoking fires in the Middle East with his decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, the U.S. president will now be the convenient fall guy for any anomalous hike in violence around the perpetually volatile Af-Pak border.
And so, in a single tweet Trump has allowed Islamabad the moral high ground in its inevitable break up with Washington; given a frail civilian government much needed ammunition for a pretentious show of strength, in turn giving it a route to sharing the stage with the Army leadership; and allowed Pakistan to rid itself of responsibility of the many decades-long howlers that the state has been trying to dig itself out of.
Pakistan simply could not have asked for anything better.