U.S. President Donald Trump’s Pakistan strategy has rallied allies China and Russia to oppose the new U.S. plan to address the unending war in Afghanistan.
Beijing and Moscow have come to Pakistan’s defense in light of Trump’s Afghan and Pakistan strategy unveiled on Monday. In a televised address, Trump slammed his country’s former major ally for going too easy on terrorists on its soil and warned that aid and security assistance to Islamabad could be reduced if the nation doesn’t stop providing “safe havens” to militants.
Trump’s harsh remarks about Pakistan, which the U.S. has long accused of harboring terrorists, drew a fiery response from both China and Russia, two emerging allies of Pakistan that have recently begun working with the South Asian nation on resolving the Afghan crisis.
President Trump, who says he is committed to leading the U.S. to victory in America’s longest war in history, warned that Islamabad had “much to lose” by continuing to offer safe havens to “agents of chaos.” The U.S. has lost more than 2,200 troops in Afghanistan since 2001, and Trump announced that he will deploy about another 4,000 troops to complement his nation’s fewer than 10,000 troop contingent left in the war-torn country.
Trump’s Pakistan strategy sparks fury in Russia and China
Trump’s Pakistan strategy vowing “a fight to win” has sparked criticism in both China and Russia, whose roles in the South Asian nation have grown substantially since U.S.-Pakistan relations turned sour after U.S. Navy SEALs killed Taliban chief Osama Bin Laden on Pakistani soil in 2011.
Beijing and Moscow engaged Islamabad in December 2016 to hold a series of trilateral talks focused on eliminating terrorism in the region. Nearly 22,000 Pakistani civilians and over 6,800 security force personnel have been killed in terrorist violence since 2003, according to estimations by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP).
Addressing a daily news briefing on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying defended Pakistan after Trump’s speech and praised her country’s “all-weather” friend for making “great sacrifices” and “important contributions” in the fight against terrorism. Mrs. Chunying also called on the international community to “fully recognize” Islamabad’s struggle against terrorism.
Russia echoed a similar sentiment on Tuesday. When speaking to Russia’s “Afghanistan” daily, Russian Presidential Envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov lambasted Trump’s Pakistan strategy and insisted that Islamabad is “a key regional player to negotiate with.”
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“Putting pressure [on Pakistan] may seriously destabilize the region-wide security situation and result in negative consequences for Afghanistan,” the Russian presidential envoy to Kabul said.
If the U.S. cuts aid to Pakistan, Islamabad would barely notice
U.S. generals have long accused Moscow of destabilizing Afghanistan by arming the Taliban, but the Kremlin has vehemently denied supplying weaponry to the Taliban and has called for a political dialogue on the Afghan crisis involving the Sunni Islamic fundamentalist political movement. In 2016 and 2017, Russia and China spearheaded Afghan talks involving Pakistan, Kazakhstan and several other regional players. Washington has not taken part in any of the China-Russia-Pakistan peace talks on Afghanistan.
Several senior U.S. officials have warned that Washington may cut financial aid and security assistance to Pakistan if it continues to offer safe havens to terrorist elements. However, critics would argue that if the U.S. reduces aid to Pakistan, they would barely notice. Islamabad’s dependence on American aid has declined in recent years. China, meanwhile, has come in to fill America’s prior role in the South Asian nation and asserted its economic and military might in the region.
Pakistan could cut supply routes to Afghanistan
America’s shrinking role in Pakistan and the China’s simultaneously growing role in the nuclear-armed South Asian country offer Islamabad more room to maneuver amid Trump’s Pakistan strategy. The White House is said to be considering more radical measures to strong-arm Pakistan into fighting terrorism, including removing Islamabad’s status as a non-NATO ally and even declaring it a state sponsor of terrorism.
Any extreme measures against Pakistan would not only push the nation further toward China and Russia but also trigger potential countermeasures. One such countermeasure Islamabad could take is closing supply routes to Afghanistan, suggests Arif Rafiq, a nonresident fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, according to The New York Times. This would not be an unprecedented move by the Pakistani government, as Islamabad cut off all NATO supplies to Afghanistan after U.S.-led NATO forces killed 28 Pakistani soldiers in a November 2011 airstrike.
Trump’s strategy to drive Pakistan closer to Russia and China
As Trump’s Pakistan strategy eclipses U.S.-Pakistan relations, Islamabad could seek deeper ties with Moscow and Beijing, according to two unnamed senior Pakistan officials cited by The Express Tribute ahead of the U.S. President’s announcement. Two officials familiar with Pakistan’s foreign policy plans said the Pakistani government would have “no option” but to further enhance its cooperation with both China and Russia.
The Pak-China diplomatic and military friendship has been steady for the past few decades, with their economic partnership reaching new heights in light of China’s announcements regarding the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project in 2014. Russia, for its part, has gravitated towards Islamabad only recently.
The two former Cold War-era rivals managed to put their differences behind them and step up their diplomatic, military and economic cooperation in recent years. In 2014, Moscow lifted the decades-old embargo on arms sales to Pakistan, and later that year, the two nations signed an agreement to expand their military ties, striking an energy deal worth $1.7 billion. In 2016, the Pak-Russian defense partnership reached new highs with the Pakistani Army and Russian Army carrying out unprecedented joint military exercises under the name of “Friendship 2016.”
Later this week, a Pakistani delegation is expected to attend Russia’s Army 2017 exhibition, as announced by Pakistani Ambassador to Russia Qazi Khalilullah last week. At an event dedicated to the 70th anniversary of Pakistan’s independence, Khalilullah also vowed that Islamabad and Moscow will increase their partnership in areas of mutual interest, including in the energy and defense sectors.
Pakistan rattled by Trump’s request for India’s help
Trump’s request for India’s help on Afghanistan has drawn criticism in Pakistan, India’s long-time enemy. Analysts in Islamabad warned that Trump’s appeals to their South Asian neighbor to “help us more,” especially with economic assistance, could result in even more tensions between Pakistan on one side and India and Afghanistan on the other.
By asking for India’s assistance in the Afghan crisis, President Trump has “confirmed the worst fears of Pakistan’s generals: that America is in cahoots with India against Pakistan,” according to Mosharraf Zaidi, a foreign-policy analyst in Pakistan who was cited by The New York Times.
The Pakistani government has long accused New Delhi of supporting and financing a hostile political regime in Afghanistan and providing financial support for militants to launch terrorist attacks against Pakistan from Afghan soil. Critics in India, meanwhile, allege that Islamabad uses militants such as the Taliban as a means to challenge New Delhi’s growing regional influence. Pakistan has long denied the allegations that it shelters militants on its territory, insisting that it takes action against all terrorist groups.