Last week, tensions between Pakistan and the US reached a tipping point as the Trump administration announced the US would be suspending aid and arms shipments to Pakistan valued at over $1 billion.On January 4th, following President Trump’s fiery tweets, the US announced that they would be suspending all security aid to Pakistan “until the Pakistani government takes decisive action against groups, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network.” Adding insult to injury, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced on the same day that he was adding Pakistan to a list of violators of the freedom of religion.
President Trump’s statements on the matter, accusing Pakistan of providing a “safe haven” to terrorists, while lying to the US, led many to believe that US-Pakistan ties would degrade even further. Statements on both sides of the aisle only seemed to feed these flames.
Have US-Pakistan Ties Been Frozen?
Senior officials for the US State Department and Pakistan’s foreign ministry, speaking under the cover of anonymity, have refuted claims that there has been a pause in US-Pakistan ties. An official for the Pakistani foreign ministry said:
There is no freeze [in US-Pakistan ties]. We are speaking to each other, at all levels. We are not sharing the details of that at this time, but the effort to find some common ground or traction on both sides is there.”
A US State Department official, confirmed these reports to Al Jazeera, saying that dialogue between Pakistan and the US is “ongoing.”
Further highlighting the efforts for peaceful dialogue, a senior US official is expected to make a diplomatic visit to Islamabad this week.
Despite the efforts of diplomatic and military officials to present a narrative of cooperation, not all officials are falling in line. One of the justifications used for cutting aid was the allegation that Pakistan was blocking US access to important intelligence, specifically related to tracking and finding terrorists. Just this week Pakistan’s Defense Minister, Khurram Dastgir, declared that Pakistan is no longer cooperating with the US in the realms of military, defense, or intelligence. The US has denied these claims.
Minister Dastgir’s remarks came on the heels of Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif publicly stating last week that the alliance between the US and Pakistan was “over.” Today Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry seemed to take a different tone, attempting to downplay Minister Asif’s previous comments. A spokesperson from the Ministry said:
The foreign minister was expressing his frustration at the unwarranted US accusations against Pakistan and the unilateral decision to suspend the security assistance, despite Pakistan’s extraordinary sacrifices and contribution in the war against terrorism.
While President Trump may feel that the $33 billion in aid paid out to Pakistan was squandered, Pakistan feels “betrayed” by these statements. Pakistani officials feel that their nation has paid a huge price in fighting the War on Terror. Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s army chief, reportedly said:
Pakistan has suffered hugely due to great power contestation in the region. Pakistan is fully aware of U.S. concerns on activities of Afghan nationals in Pakistan and we are already taking multiple actions… Pakistan will not seek resumption of aid.
Pakistan has pointed out that thousands of Pakistani citizens have died in the fight against terror, while the country has faced great damage to its infrastructure. Pakistan has also provided valuable supply routes into Afghanistan. Many Pakistanis believe that they are being scapegoated by the Trump administration.
A National Security Committee was convened after the Trump administration’s announcement. Top officials including the Prime Minister attended the meeting where they discussed what they described as the US scapegoating Pakistan after failing to end the War on Terror or bring peace to Afghanistan despite 16 years of war. The Pakistani Army, echoed these sentiments:
Pakistan shall continue its sincere counter-terrorism efforts even without U.S. financial support. Pakistan will keep supporting all initiatives for peace in Afghanistan despite the tendency to scapegoat Pakistan.
On the other hand, American officials point out that the supply routes through Pakistan have been very lucrative for the country, while Osama bin Laden was found to be hiding in Pakistan. Additionally, US intelligence reports indicate that terrorists have been finding sanctuary in Pakistan where they were able to plan attacks on US troops across the border in Afghanistan.
What’s Terror Got to Do with It?
The US holds that Pakistan provides safe haven to terrorists, particularly the Taliban. Pakistan, meanwhile, alleges that the US has not done enough to eradicate the Pakistan Taliban in Afghanistan. Today, Pakistan announced that they had traced this week’s suicide bombers back to Afghanistan, seeming to emphasize their point about the US’ failures in the neighboring country.
More concerning for US officials is the fact that public enemy #1, Osama bin Laden was found to be hiding in Pakistan, potentially with the help of the government. Bin Laden was found to be living a life of relative luxury. Raising even more eyebrows, his mansion compound was located less than a mile from the Pakistan Military Academy in a suburb populated by military officials. His compound had clearly been built with security measures in mind, making it stand out from the local homes, although locals insist they were unaware of his presence.
Osama bin Laden was eventually killed in a US Navy Seal raid of the compound in 2011. The compound was demolished by Pakistani authorities shortly thereafter.
Today, the US turned to the question of whether Pakistan would still hand over terror suspects to the US, amid claims that US-Pakistan ties in the intelligence and military arena have come to a standstill. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Steven Goldstein stated:
We would hope that Pakistan would come to the table and that they would turn over those terrorists that we have asked be turned over. We’ve indicated very clearly that we believe that can happen.
Despite alarmist statements on both sides, it is clear that there are some officials working towards a diplomatic solution between the two nations in order to prevent an all out freeze in US-Pakistan ties.
Analysts also worry that the potential standstill in US-Pakistan ties could push Pakistani closer to China, who currently have plans to invest $50 billion into a massive infrastructure project in Pakistan. The project known as the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a part of China’s Road and Belt trade initiative and creates trade and supply routes through Pakistan, connecting China to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. CPEC, which cuts through the contentious Pakistan controlled Kashmir, has raised red flags for some analysts.