President Trump launched a fierce attack on Pakistan on the first day of 2018 by highlighting the fact that Pakistan is harbouring the terrorists that the United States is fighting in Afghanistan. It was added that due to this breach of trust, it has become imperative on part of the Trump administration to suspend all the security aid that it has been transferring to the Government of Pakistan since the last fifteen years. An unanticipated harsh reaction was followed by the Pakistan Foreign Ministry which denied the charges levelled against it in strongest terms. While India and Afghanistan welcomed this decision by the Trump Administration, the Chinese Foreign Ministry categorically opposed any criticism of Pakistan with respect to its resolve to fight against terrorism.
Strategic commentators and mainstream media expressed shock over President Trump’s decision of sudden suspension of aid and antagonistic statements that were followed by the President in his typical twitter rants against Pakistan. It should be noted that this decision did not pop up suddenly out of the Oval office but it was a work-in-progress. Obama administration failed to bring Pakistan in line for providing sanctuaries to the terrorist groups such as Haqqani network and Afghan Taliban faction. The Obama-Clinton administration turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s duplicity in anticipation of some perceived strategic costs that the NATO forces led by the United States might have to pay in case of confrontation with Pakistan, who is a known harbinger of terrorists. The new Trump Administration did not believe in Obama-Clinton administration’s strategic calculations and showed a strong resolve to fight against the terrorists in Afghanistan. It denied an easy ascension to the status of security partnership to Pakistan by withdrawing the old cushion of strategic calculations of South Asia. This displeasure combed with the realist interpretation of ground realities was conveyed time and again to the Pakistani authorities by the length and breadth of the Trump Administration – ranging from NSA General H.R. McMaster, Defence Secretary General Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Vice President Mike Pence in Afghanistan recently. A few months back, the US Government also took the initiative to place the security aid to Pakistan in the form of an escrow account which was to be accessed by Pakistan upon the fulfilment of certain conditionality. Therefore, the recent decision to put a temporary freeze on security aid to Pakistan was not a reflex action of the United States government.
Many renowned security experts are debating about the economic and strategic impact of this ‘temporary freeze’. There is a consensus among all strategic commentators that any freeze on American aid would have huge economic impact on Pakistan who is reeling under insurmountable external debt and faltering domestic economic indicators. Adding to the woes is the $56 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which is primarily linked to the loan element. If economic indicators are to be believed, Pakistan is poised to falter on its external debt commitment and possibly fall into the Chinese debt trap which would ultimately result in the loss of sovereign control over its territory. A vacuum generated by American pullout would become an opportunity for China to exercise its direct tentacles over Pakistan. In this scenario, both India and United States would have much more to lose than to gain by acceding the dragon on the doors of South Asia and the Indian Ocean. This worst case scenario would endanger the war in Afghanistan for the Americans and the clockwise encirclement of India by the Chinese would become a geopolitical reality. Therefore, both the Americans and Indians are aware that the freeze on security aid cannot be a permanent solution to push and squeeze the Pakistanis to act in a civilised behaviour.
A short-term freeze of funds would pinch Pakistan which is going through a turbulent phase domestically. Hence, it is possible that Pakistan would offer clandestine cooperation to the United States for them to target the terrorist groups operating in its territory. This would enable Pakistan to balance the rising superpower interests in its region and focus on domestic consolidation efforts. Of course, all these assumptions lie on the basic presumption that Pakistan would understand the gravity of the economic crisis at home and the possibility of the resultant loss of its sovereignty in case it provides any more inroads to an imperialist ‘middle kingdom’. As clarified by the State Department, this freeze on the funds is temporary in nature and the flow of it would depend upon the future behaviour of Pakistan. It is high time for the Pakistani authorities to realise that an insatiable desire to harm the neighbour cannot be realised at the cost of irreversible destruction of one’s own house.