US PRESIDENT DONALD Trump has earned a reputation for being impulsive by nature, even while talking about friends, long-time military allies and the United Nations. For him, Twitter is a place to express many of his wishes. Last year, he talked about who he wanted as British Ambassador to the US. ‘Many people would like to see @ Nigel_Farage represent Great Britain as their Ambassador to the United States. He would do a great job!’ he tweeted in November 2016. He has often used the expression ‘many people’ to highlight his own preferences, embarrassing even friends. Yet, even by his own standards, his tweet on January 1st, 4:12am, on Pakistan, a US partner in the so-called War on Terror, was mortifying—notwithstanding the truth of the matter.
The American President tweeted, ‘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!’ While veteran politicians from Afghanistan applauded him, other countries welcomed the move with cautious optimism. His detractors wondered when they could expect a bold tweet on Russian interference in the US presidential elections.
Indeed, Trump has had a great innings on Twitter. ‘Crooked Hillary’ and ‘The Failing New York Times’ are phrases that have clicked. North Korea has found frequent mention, as also his concern for the ‘great people’ of Iran and disgust for the leadership, ‘Iran, the Number One State of Sponsored Terror with numerous violations of Human Rights occurring on an hourly basis’. His Twitter handle has perhaps contributed the most to Trumpism as a celebrity-driven cult of personality and a celebration of the rejection of earlier US policies that attracted ridicule from large numbers of Waspy Americans.
Trump’s Pakistan tweet was followed by a more implosive one, bordering on the suggestive, on North Korea: ‘North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!’ The comparison of size—of whatever it was—was yet another low for White House dignity. Such tweets are typical of him, in that he outdoes himself at either sounding abusive or in confounding other leaders and analysts. Immediately after his rant against Pakistan, Islamabad summoned the American ambassador to convey disappointment at the anti-Pakistan remarks. A statement by its Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi reflects the anguish. For his part, Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir-Khan tweeted that it was Pakistan that provided the US with land and air communication to batter Al Qaeda. He was, of course, silent on where US Navy Seals finally captured Osama bin Laden.
Some Trump watchers had attributed the tweet to Trump the person and his domestic compulsions, but it is no secret that the US has been frustrated with Pakistan for not delivering enough on its commitment to rein in the dreaded Haqqani Network, an insurgent group that has become a major headache for American forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan has been reportedly encouraging the Haqqani Network instead of clamping down on its operations. Islamabad has a lot to lose from a shift in America’s strategic stance, but it’s still unclear whether Trump’s remarks signal serious consequences for it—such as Pakistan’s removal from the US list of Major Non-Nato Allies. If it’s dropped as an ally, Pakistan will find it almost impossible to purchase military hardware from the West, especially the Nato bloc. But then, to manage its operations in Afghanistan, the US would still need land access through Pakistan; any other route might displease Moscow. Effectively, not depending on Pakistan will mean other countries could step in and take charge of the affairs of that country, as Foreign Ministry officials have warned in the past, referring to China, which has become quite friendly with Pakistan. The ambitious infrastructure projects that Beijing is building in the Islamic republic serve both their interests.
Pakistan has been an ally for the US and an uneasy one at that. While helping the US at crucial moments occasionally, it has also sheltered terrorists and promoted jihadi activities, especially vis-a- vis India. It has often followed a duplicitous foreign policy over the War on Terror. Following the tweet, the US has announced a cut in aid to Pakistan. “The United States does not plan to spend the $255 million in... foreign military financing for Pakistan at this time... The President has made clear that the US expects Pakistan to take decisive action against terrorists and militants on its soil,” a US National Security Council spokesman has said. Yet, a comprehensive plan to neutralise Pakistan’s role as a benefactor of terror groups remains a far cry. After all, desperate remarks don’t always reflect real intent—and certainly not the final outcome.