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 F-16B fighters of the Pakistan Air Force. Courtesy of US Air Force, Airman 1st Class Daniel Phelps.

Pakistan to the US: Don’t Threaten Us. We Can Walk Away

Kamal Alam
Commentary, 4 September 2017
Pakistan, Central and South Asia
It is said that in order to understand Pakistan, you need to know three ‘A’s’: Allah; America; and the army. While Allah and the army are still central to Pakistan, it can be argued that America’s importance is fading fast.

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’ came as no surprise in 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, the Chief Minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, or the National Assembly, have united in saying time was up for the US, its threats and financial blackmail.

Trump is not unique in his criticism of Pakistan; he follows a long line of American officials who have singled out Pakistani support for the Taliban in Afghanistan. Since the speech, Trump also appears to have threatened Pakistan, saying it will get financial aid only after it has fulfilled US demands regarding the war in Afghanistan.

Normally, 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 US or explain it actions, Pakistan has cancelled two visits by American delegations to Islamabad.

Normally, when the US has accused Pakistan of being the major stumbling block towards achieving peace in the region, Islamabad has panicked and sought to appease American anger

Furthermore, 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. David Hale, the American ambassador to Pakistan, went out of his way since Trump’s tirade to meet 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 Lieutenant General Patrick Sanders, Commander of Britain’s Field Army, who said in May that the army had achieved in Waziristan what the British failed to do in more than 200 years.

Britain’s Chief of General Staff, General Sir Nicholas Carter, went as far as to say that former Pakistan army chief Raheel Sharif was his mentor. Following on from a Pakistan Army officer becoming the first non-Westerner to train cadets at the prestigious Royal Military Academy Sandhrust, the Germans and Czech have also asked for Pakistani officers to train their cadets.

In addition, Turkey has also asked that Pakistan send trainers for its F-16 fleet, as the Turkish Air Force struggles since the sacking of its pilots following the failed 15 July coup in 2016. However, the US barred the move.

In addition to this, the ever-increasing support provided by China has eclipsed anything America has had to offer in terms of military and economic assistance. The China–Pakistan strategic relationship is well-established.

General Bajwa said Pakistan did not need American financial assistance, but instead required its respect or trust. This is a historically significant statement, given the reliance of Pakistan on US military equipment since 1947

And it has developed at a rate faster than before; the creation of the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor, followed by joint military production, has put Pakistan’s standing firmly on the rise. This has been indirectly acknowledged by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who, on his last visit to Pakistan, in November 2016, also suggested that UK must be involved in this project.

For the first time in its history, Pakistan has also purchased attack helicopters from Russia, which has always been seen as Islamabad’s enemy.

Following Trump’s speech, Bajwa said Pakistan did not need American financial assistance, but instead required its respect or trust. This is a historically significant statement, given the reliance of Pakistan 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. 

Banner image: F-16B fighters of the Pakistan Air Force. Pakistan has relied on US equipment since 1947. That may be coming to an end.Courtesy of US Air Force, Airman 1st Class Daniel Phelps.

Author

Kamal Alam
Visiting Fellow, Pakistan

Kamal’s research focuses on Pakistan defence issues, Pakistan military’s relationship with the Arab States, Syrian Army and the non-Arab... read more

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