Without disagreeing with the main argument by President Trump for suspending security assistance to Pakistan, The New York Times editorial on January 6th had come up with a sane suggestion that the president “…marshal other diplomatic tools, to see if more constructive cooperation with Pakistan is possible.” Stressing the point further, the editorial made an even saner and timely proposal that the president “harness his new friendship with the leaders of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates to shut down Haqqani and other Taliban fund-raising efforts in the Persian Gulf.”
The argument that the bulk of funding that the Haqqanis and other Taliban factions have been receiving all these years is coming from Saudi Arabia and the UAE has never been in doubt. The regional currency market operators have been processing these transactions like normal business for ages without batting an eye.
During Pakistan’s ‘lost decade’ of the 1990s the real rulers of the day had used these funds to finance their military operations as well as their efforts at governance. These flows have continued even after 9/11 but this time these funds have been going straight to the Afghan Taliban, including Haqqanis fleeing to safe sanctuaries in Pakistan in the aftermath of second Afghan war which is now in its 17th year.
Pakistan has succeeded in curtailing terrorist activities inside the country to a great extent by launching Zarb-e-Azb in June 2014 which morphed into Radd-ul-Fasaad in 2017. However, Afghan Taliban groups, including Haqqanis, it is suspected, are not being seriously challenged by the Pakistani Army for fear of kicking up a bloody entanglement which, it is feared, would bring the Afghan war into Pakistan without an endgame in sight.
So, if the US wants to see a quick end to the Haqqanis and other Taliban factions using Pakistani soil to launch their murderous operations inside Afghanistan, it will have to persuade Saudi Arabia and the UAE to effectively move against these fund raisers in their respective countries and forcibly turn off the clandestine tap that is sustaining the firepower of Haqqanis.
Pakistan does not appear to be in the mood to respond to President Trump’s humiliating Twitter warnings by either closing off its roads and rails to US supplies passing through its land for American troops stationed in Afghanistan, nor is it thinking of denying its airspace to US aircraft flying through to Afghanistan. In fact on January 5th, a foreign ministry statement talked about the need for mutual respect and patience “as the two countries address common threats.”
Pakistan-China friendship has survived and deepened even during the most ‘allied ally’ phase of the Cold War days and it has expanded further during the recent ‘non-Nato ally’ phase. So, it is totally wrong on the part of the US strategists to believe that just because the US would cut off its military and economic aid to Pakistan it would result in Islamabad deepening its friendship with Beijing at the expense of Pakistan’s friendship with the US.
And those in the US who believe Pakistan has effectively bribed the international community with the spectre that any instability could result in terrorists getting their hands on Pakistani nuclear technology, fissile materials, or a weapon are totally off the mark as well. It is not Pakistan but these misguided US political pundits who have cultivated a global fear that Pakistan is too dangerous to fail.
Indeed, even a complete stoppage of the US aid most of which has come in the form of grant or at concessional rates would not hurt the country’s economy seriously because the US has been siphoning back 99 cents from each of its aid dollar in the shape of consultancy fees, shipping charges and transfer pricing resorted to while importing goods and services from the US as per conditions hidden in the fine print of the aid agreements. So, the Chinese loans if not any more beneficial for Pakistan than the US grants, would not be any less beneficial as well.
Of course, Pakistan would be seriously hurt if the multilateral aid agencies under the influence of the US were to stop offering the country a helping hand in times of economic crises which we experience on a regular basis.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2018.