LONDON: America’s importance for Pakistan is fading fast, as seen by the aftermath of US President Donald Trump’s scathing speech last month singling out Pakistan for giving safe haven to what he called ‘agents of chaos, violence, and terror’, writes Kamal Alam, a visiting fellow for British defence and security thinktank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).
In his commentary for the think tank, Alam, whose research focuses on Pakistan’s defence in the region, notes that Trump’s criticism “came as no surprise to Islamabad, which has become accustomed to being made the scapegoat for American failures in neighbouring Afghanistan.”
“What is different, however, is the defiant Pakistani response, the speech has united the erstwhile divisive nature of military and civilian cohesion in Pakistan.
“Whether it was Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, or the National Assembly, everyone has united in saying time was up for the US, its threats and financial blackmail,” he observes.
Alam points out that usually when the US has accused Pakistan of being the “major stumbling block towards achieving peace in the region, Islamabad has panicked and a flurry of diplomatic activity has followed, to appease American anger and save the country from the coming wrath of sanctions, a block on weapons’ sales or worse.”
This time, however, there seems to be a fundamental switch in Pakistan’s response. Rather than “grovel to the US or explain its actions”, Pakistan has cancelled two visits by American delegations to Islamabad, the writer notes.
Instead, it was the turn of US diplomats to engage in the “game of seeking appointments with Pakistani officials, and to try to explain that Pakistan is still a vital ally of the US,” he writes, pointing out that David Hale, the American ambassador to Pakistan, went out of his way since Trump’s tirade to meet General Bajwa and National Security Advisor Lieutenant General Nasser Khan Janjua.
“So, what has changed? To start with, this is a much more confident Pakistan due to a massive increase in security led by the army and a revived economy. The successful military operation ‘Zarb-e-Azb’ has cut the number of terrorist attacks in the country and attracted global praise led by Britain’s Field Army Commander Lieutenant General Patrick Sanders who said in May that the army had achieved in Waziristan what the British failed to do in more than 200 years,” Alam argues.
He further points out that Britain’s Chief of General Staff General Sir Nicholas Carter not too long ago went as far as to say that former Pakistan army chief Raheel Sharif was his mentor. A Pakistan Army officer recently became the first non-Westerner to train cadets at the prestigious Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, while German and Czech officials have also requested Pakistani officers to train their cadets.
Moreover, the ever-increasing support provided by China has eclipsed anything America has had to offer in terms of military and economic assistance, Alam notes, mentioning the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as a case in point which, he says, has put Pakistan’s standing firmly on the rise.
The author terms General Bajwa’s statement following Trump’s speech, in which he said Pakistan did not need American financial assistance but instead required its respect or trust, as “historically significant”, given Pakistan’s reliance on US military equipment since 1947.
“So, the only significant development to emerge from Trump’s public rebuke to Pakistan may well be Washington’s discovery that it needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs the Americans,” Alam concludes.