The Trump administration took six months to make a hard-headed review of America’s Afghanistan policy and it seemed finally prepared to strong-arm Pakistan as never before to end its terrorist links. On October 3, Defence Secretary Mattis told the Congress that the US would make one more effort to work with Pakistan and if these efforts failed Trump was “prepared to take whatever steps are necessary”. The US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Dunford remarked at the same hearing that “it was clear to him that the ISI had ties with terrorist groups”.
Pakistan has had periods of high tension with the US before but has bounced back both because of regional developments and techniques mastered over the years to handle the Americans that include false narratives, including security ones involving India, and piece-meal action on their demands, giving Washington hope but not satisfaction. It has fully leveraged its geopolitical location, nuclear status, relationship with China and US need for access to Afghanistan to keep the Americans at bay. Islamabad has had manoeuvre room also because Washington has not viewed India an alternative partner in the region. It is only lately that the US-India strategic partnership has evolved, and this explains why the Trump administration’s diplomatic assault on it on Afghanistan and terrorism, coupled with a resolve to forge closer ties with India, has shaken Pakistan.
Rehearsing past wiles, Pakistan has resorted to a mixture of defiance and tactical delivery to counter US pressure. After berating the Americans for treating Pakistan shabbily as its prime minister and foreign minister did during their US visits, it was announced, suddenly, in a familiar replay of Pakistani tactics of producing an outcome on the ground that would rekindle US hopes about obtaining, at last, cooperation from Islamabad, that the Pakistani military had rescued an American/Canadian family held as hostages for five years by the Haqqani group. Trump’s thorough review of America’s relationship with Pakistan would have surely taken into account these well-honed Pakistan’s tactics of selective cooperation in order to preserve space for nurturing its terrorist proxies. So why are the Americans ready to be duped again?
Trump’s tweet: “Starting to develop a much better relationship with Pakistan and its leaders” and thanking them for their “cooperation on many fronts,” is therefore odd. Which “other fronts” is he referring to and how have they emerged so suddenly? That Trump could inflate a minor operation by calling it “a positive moment for our country’s relationship with Pakistan”, when no action has been taken against the Haqqani group as such or any other terrorist organisation infesting Pakistan, defies reason.
Pakistan has brazenly demanded proof that the Haqqani group is present in Pakistan. How come then the hostages have been freed from the Haqqani outfit within Pakistani territory? To cover its lies, Pakistan has claimed that American intelligence had alerted them that the hostages had been moved to Pakistan recently. But the US statement refers to the release of the family “from captivity in Pakistan”. To balance domestic perceptions that despite its bluster Pakistan had bent before US pressure, it has been announced that no further extension of Hafiz Saeed’s house arrest under the anti-terrorism law will be sought. Pakistan already thinks that it has obtained space to preserve its terrorist assets. What Trump may gain temporarily by demonstrating to US public opinion that his hectoring abroad is producing results, America and he will lose if he starts giving certificates of compliance prematurely on some peripheral actions by state sponsors of terrorism.