Pakistan, which the U.S. has repeatedly accused of sheltering terrorist groups, may be added to President Donald Trump’s so-called Muslim ban list… or it might not be. In a move that was labeled by many as “racist” and “Islamophobic,” Trump signed executive order on Friday targeting seven predominantly Muslim countries – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Included in the ban are citizens who haven’t been involved in terrorist acts against the U.S. yet.
Meanwhile, all the major terrorist elements that have carried out mass killings in the U.S. and other Western countries over the past few decades – al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Islamic State (ISIS) – can trace their roots back to the nations that weren’t included in the list, particularly Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. But the Trump administration is considering including “other countries that have similar problems, like Pakistan” on its infamous Muslim ban list, said White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus in an interview on Sunday.
Priebus’ sentiments were echoed a day later by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who said, when asked why Pakistan wasn’t included on the list, “Maybe we will.” Spicer added that the White House may “find other countries” during a 90-day review.
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Banning Pakistan could be easily justified
But there are several reasons that suggest Trump won’t ban Pakistanis from entering the United States, and they don’t even pertain to his business ties with Pakistan, as many U.S. media outlets may suspect. In fact, Trump “has no investments in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” according to Deutsche Welle, who cites U.S.-based security and Islamism expert Arif Jamal.
Mr. Jamal argues that while Trump didn’t add Afghanistan to the Muslim ban list because it would “create a lot of problems for U.S. troops and other Americans working in the war-torn country” and halt cooperation between Washington and Kabul, Pakistan’s case is “different.”
“I think Trump is in the process of formulating a comprehensive policy for the Islamic country.”
In fact, the White House, which has repeatedly hinted it could add Pakistan to the Muslim ban list, would have no problem justifying the Islamic country’s inclusion on the list of countries that are viewed as potentially harmful to Americans and U.S. security interests.
Reasons for adding Pakistan to the Muslim Ban list
The former founder and head of al-Qaeda, Obama bin Laden, who took responsibility for the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. that killed about 3,000 people in 2001, lived in Pakistan for a long time before U.S. Navy SEALs killed him in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad in May 2011.
It was a turning point in relations between Washington and Islamabad, which once were very close allies. Since then, the U.S. has been accusing Pakistan of harboring terrorists. In 2012, even Trump himself, who wasn’t even in the running to be the next president then, blasted Pakistan for allegedly sheltering terrorists. He said the Islamic country had to “apologize” for “providing a safe sanctuary to Osama bin Laden for six years.”
Since the September 9/11 attacks, a number of militant elements have used Pakistan’s territory to launch attacks in Afghanistan, where the U.S. military still has about 10,000 troops and is engaged in the longest war in its history. In 2010, the Pakistani Taliban killed 50 people and injured 100 more in a suicide attack on the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar, the capital of the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. That same year, a Pakistan-born resident of the U.S. attempted to carry out a terrorist attack in Times Square in Manhattan, New York.
In December 2015, a Pakistan-born lawful permanent resident of the U.S. killed 14 people in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. A little more than half a year later, in June 2016, an American-born U.S. citizen of Afghan descent carried out a terrorist attack/hate crime in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people and injuring 53 others.
In December 2016, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani openly accused Pakistan of being responsible for the spread of terror in his country.
Five reasons Trump won’t include Pakistan on the List
While the above-mentioned facts would make it an easy task for Trump to justify including Pakistan on his infamous list of countries whose citizens are temporarily barred from entering the U.S., there are five outstanding reasons that have so far prevented and will prevent the U.S. President from doing it.
- One can argue that the furious backlash in the wake of his so-called Muslim ban may have saved Pakistan from being included on the list.
Any travel restrictions on Pakistan would draw even more ire from the world and further solidify the Islamophobic claims against Trump and his new administration. After signing the controversial executive order, the President has repeatedly stressed that this is “not a Muslim ban,” but rather, a way to “prevent terror and keep our country safe.”
- While one can argue that the U.S. has a great deal of interests in the seven Muslim countries already included on the list, the magnitude of those interests don’t come close to the magnitude of U.S. interests in the South Asian region, which would be compromised in the case of Pakistan’s inclusion on the list.
Adding Pakistan to the list of countries facing visa restrictions would create new challenges for U.S. security interests in the South Asian region, while Pakistan’s proximity and its close ties to China are of particular interest for Washington and especially for Trump, who has been an outspoken critic of China. In addition to that, America’s attempts to secure peace in Afghanistan without Pakistan’s support would be futile.
- Pakistan, a country with a proven ability to adjust and adapt its strategic interests even in the darkest moments of isolation, wouldn’t be devastated if Trump decides to add it to his list.
On the contrary, such a move would further throw Pakistan into Beijing’s sphere of influence, something Washington would not be interested in.
A couple of decades ago, when Pakistan was dependent on the U.S. for financial and military help, a travel ban against Pakistanis would be a nightmare for the country. However, its more independent stance and ever-growing ties to China would allow it to survive now in the event of any restrictions, sanctions or bans from America.
- Less than 24 hours after the White House hinted that it could add Pakistan to the list of countries facing travel restrictions, Pakistani officials warned Washington that such a move would reduce their cooperation in the fight against Islamist militants in the war-torn region.
Several Pakistani officials have warned that Trump including their country on the list of nations already facing visa bans would halt joint efforts in their fight against extremism and Islamic militants, especially in Afghanistan.
- If Trump is truly interested in resolving the long-standing Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, banning Pakistani citizens from entering the U.S. would be a diplomatically unwise move.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence suggested in December that Trump and his “extraordinary deal-making skills” will help resolve the Kashmir issue between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.