US President Donald Trump threw Pakistan under the bus on New Year Day and Pakistani journalist Rauf Klasra said a “bankrupt Pakistan is ready to go to war with the Superpower,” The sarcasm was lost on the Government of Pakistan, which called an “emergency meeting” and then said the cabinet will meet on Tuesday to take stock of Trump’s tweet declaring “no more” aid to the “bankrupt” state.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said Islamabad will soon clear the difference between “fact and fiction”. Klasra’s comment came after this.
India, which was quietly holding an NSA-level meeting with Pakistan in Thailand, can only watch as things unravel fast in the neighbourhood. If the “tweet” becomes “policy”, Pakistan will have no choice but to extend the begging bowl toward China and the Chinese are notorious misers unlike the Americans, who have only now, after 15 years of being taken for a truck-trailer ride across Pakistan into Afghanistan, come to realize they (Americans) were “fools”.
That said Trump’s New Year tweet has rattled the Pakistanis. By late evening Pakistani TV channels were debating whether to slap the United States into submission or take China, Russia and Iran into confidence and do a Turkey on the US. Klasra, one of the very few influential Pakistanis who have their heads screwed right on their heads, was referring to this line of thought.
And though the Pakistani establishment tried its best not to mention India in any of its reactions to the Trump-tweet, India was the elephant in the room that Pakistan was trying to ignore. An edit in the Dawn newspaper noted, “A grim year in Pakistan-India relations appears to have ended on a somewhat positive note with a meeting in Bangkok between Pakistan National Security Adviser retired Gen Nasser Janjua and Indian NSA Ajit Doval.”
But it was not the Thailand meeting which kept Pakistan roiled throughout Monday. The dismaying prospect of the dollar-tap running dry had Pakistanis erupting in warts. Pakistani commentators on television called Trump every name in the Pakistani Book of Curses, including “scumbag”, “donkey”, “an ass” and “no, a dumbass”. A shrill female anchor cast suspicion on Trump’s mental health and said he must have been carrying a hangover from the New Year Eve party when he tweeted, little knowing that Trump is a dangerous teetotaller.
Probably, Trump woke up to the Kim Jong Un tweet, in which the North Korean dictator said he kept the “nuclear button always on my desk”. Caught between two rogue nuclear states – North Korea and Pakistan – Trump must have taken out his bile on Pakistan, giving Kim a pass because Kim also spoke of reconciliation. In any case, Trump wanted quick results to make a foreign policy comeback after the Jerusalem defeat in the United Nations. Bajwa’s Pakistan was more likely to succumb than Kim’s Korea.
And Pakistan was also brazenly refusing to accept a couple of reasonable US requests. One, handover to the US a Haqqani Network operative in Pakistan’s custody and two, not to mainstream global terrorist Hafiz Saeed, who has launched a political party and has ambitions to become Prime Minister of Pakistan.
US hints of giving Pakistan a rap on the knuckle for refusing to “do more” was already evident. Days before New Year Eve, the New York Times reported that Trump was planning to withhold $255 million in US aid till Islamabad demonstrated that it was serious about cracking down on terrorism top of which was to rein in UN and US-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed.
For some perverse reason the Pakistan Army has been backing Saeed to the extent of risking ties with the US, and losing dollars. Perhaps a belief that a “Prime Minister Hafiz Saeed” sitting across the table with Prime Minister Narendra Modi will make all the difference to launch a Babar (the name of a Pakistani nuclear missile) or two at India.
Monday, a divided Pakistan weighed whether it should like North Korea stand up to “US bullying” or “see sense” and wait for things to unfold, for this was just a “tweet and not policy.”
Pakistan hung by the thin belief that it will come through this too because of its strategic positioning on the world map. America just cannot do without Pakistan was one line of thought that kept Pakistanis from slumping into national depression. Another was that there was always China, Pakistan’s all-weather friend, to run to in times of a national crisis.
A third line of thought, by far more grounded to reality, questioned why Pakistan was the first Trump-thought on a New Year morning? The answer was not hard to pin down: Haqqani Network and Hafiz Saeed.
The deceptively impulsive Trump should not be taken lightly by Pakistan. When the man makes a promise or takes a decision he stands by it. Jerusalem was one example. On the domestic front his decisions on immigration and keeping Muslims from certain countries out of the US have not diluted despite opposition. He is still bent on building the Wall. North Korea continues to be his focus. And China and Russia are “enemies” he has said. Pakistanis on Monday pronounced Trump “unhinged” but it was a Trump-unleashed that they were terrified of.
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