ISLAMABAD - A day after US President Donald Trump accused Pakistan of harbouring militants, Islamabad had a clear message for Washington: Shifting the blame for your own failure in Afghanistan and arm-twisting won’t work anymore.
Laying out his new policy on Afghanistan, Trump accused Pakistan of playing a double game saying it accepted American aid but gave safe haven to insurgents who kill US troops. He also threatened the country of stopping aid until Islamabad succumbs to pressure.
There was a national outrage in Pakistan over the remarks with country’s foreign minister condemning it and federal cabinet expressing its regret on Tuesday. But it was country’s army chief who gave the US a shut-up call on Wednesday.
“Pakistan is not looking for any material or financial assistance from [the] United States but needs trust, understanding and acknowledgement of its contributions in the war against terror,” General Bajawa told US Ambassador David Hale, who called on him in Rawalpindi.
“We have done a lot ... and shall keep on doing our best, not to appease anyone but in line with our national interest and national policy,” Bajwa was quoted in an army press statement as saying.
The outrageous and insensitive remarks of Trump deeply offended Islamabad, which has been asking the US to review its policy in the light of ground realities in South Asia, where a hegemonic India has been collaborating with Afghanistan to destabilise Pakistan by backing terrorists.
Earlier, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, adding his voice to the general indignation of Pakistanis, reiterated Islamabad’s stance that it has been clamping down on all terrorists without any distinction.
“They should not make Pakistan a scapegoat for their failures in Afghanistan,” Asif said in an interview with Geo TV late on Tuesday.
The federal cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi during a weekly meeting on Tuesday also expressed disappointment over Trump remarks and the new US policy for Afghanistan and South Asia.
A detailed government response to the new US policy is expected during the national security committee meeting slated for today (Thursday).
President Trump in his speech lambasted Pakistan for what he said “offering safe havens” to “agents of chaos” – a reference to the Afghan Taliban and its affiliated group, the Haqqani network.
“We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations,” said the US president, who apparently has got too frustrated with the longest running military conflict the US ever have.
“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” he said.
After Trump speech, US officials also warned that aid to Pakistan might be cut and Washington might downgrade nuclear-armed Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally, in order to pressure it to do more to help bring about an end to America’s longest-running war.
This was why Gen Bajwa told Ambassador Hale that his country did not seek any financial assistance but a respectful status as a partner, conveying him quite clearly that snubbing and arm-twisting would only harm the collective efforts against terrorism.
The army chief also made it clear to Washington that peace in Afghanistan was as important to Pakistan as was to any other country. He said that Pakistan had done a lot towards that end, and “shall keep on doing our best, not to appease anyone but in line with our national interest and national policy.”
He said that collaboration and synergy of efforts between all stakeholders was the key to success to bring this long drawn war in Afghanistan to its logical conclusion.
Ambassador Hale briefed the army chief about the new US policy. He said that the US valued Pakistan’s role in the war against terror and is seeking cooperation from Pakistan to resolve the Afghan issue.
On Tuesday, the US ambassador also had interaction with Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif and briefed him about the new US policy towards Afghanistan and South Asia.
Asif also told Hale that peace in Afghanistan was in the national interest of Pakistan and Islamabad had been encouraging a peaceful resolution of decade’s old Afghan conflict.
He said that as a matter of policy, Pakistan supported an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process in Afghanistan.
The political and religious leaders have also criticised the new US policy and called upon the government to give an inconsiderate Trump a befitting response.
They also demanded the government convene a joint sitting of the parliament without delay to discuss and evolve a national response to tackle the challenge arising out of new US policy for the region.
The leading Pakistani analysts in their reactions have termed the new US policy deeply flawed, which according to them would not help Washington win the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan.
They believe this policy was rather an effort towards covering up failures of the United States and the NATO in establishing peace in Afghanistan and viewed the development as a conspiracy to help the US prolong its stay in the war-torn country.
They also criticised the new US policy for giving a greater role to Pakistan’s arch rival India in Afghanistan - in total disregard to atrocities being committed by New Delhi in Indian-occupied Kashmir.
Reason behind sharp reaction
Pakistanis have lost homes and loved ones to militant violence, mostly sponsored by Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies, which has killed thousands since 2007. This was why Trump’s remarks provoked hurt and outrage among many.
“We have been fighting YOUR war for a decade now, we have lost numerous lives of civilians, our jawans, even our schoolgoing children as well,” wrote Farhan Bashir on Facebook. “Today you are saying this to cover up your failures in Afghanistan?”
“All the worst things that we are facing is only because (we are) supporting the US in Afghanistan,” said Ameer Hamza. “How could a country shelter terrorists which itself is under the grip of terrorism?”
In Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar, which has borne the brunt of vicious militant violence over the years, bank employee Suhail Ahmad said Pakistani troops and police had done their job and cleared the area of militants.
“We Pakistanis were suffering from terrorism, but now the terrorists have either been killed or fled to Afghanistan,” the 24-year-old said.
“The power is in the US hands in Afghanistan so why don’t they go against terrorists and kill them there?”
Others suggested ditching the US alliance altogether and embracing China, which has been pouring tens of billions into infrastructure investment in Pakistan in recent years.
“They have always pressured us for doing more and more. There may be some pro-US voices but I think we should go closer to China,” said Sakhawat Shah, a Peshawar college student.
Analyst Rahimullah Yousufzai said: “On one side America is asking for Pakistan’s support and on the other side asking India.
“How it is possible for Pakistan to provide its support in a matter which will strengthen India’s grip in Afghanistan?”
In Karachi, also long plagued by militant violence, shopowners brushed aside Trump’s criticism. “We need to clean up our own mess, not to rely on any one,” said Rashid Mahmood, 40.
Others noted that Pakistanis have bigger problems than even Trump or militants. “Our daily nightmare is street robbers... we are least bothered by what America is saying,” said Momin Khan, a 42-year-old grocery shop owner, adding: “Trump is a liar and he is anti-Muslim.”