“Pakistan,” said President Trump in his speech to troops at Ft Myer, VA laying his new plans for the war in Afghanistan, “Pakistan, has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor terrorists.”
“Yes!” roared an amen corner that ranged from an Indian TV anchorwoman published by the Washington Post to Zalmay Khalilizad, the Afghanistan-born former Ambassador to Kabul and to the United Nations under George W. Bush who congratulated the President for calling Pakistan out “for pretending to be a partner, and receiving large-scale American assistance, while providing sanctuary and support for the Taliban and the Haqqani terrorist network.”
To Pakistanis like Musharraf Zaidi, a former diplomat writing in the NY Times, this charge is the oldest element in Trump’s so-called “new plan.” “For the past 16 years,” Zaidi says, ‘whenever the United States has been faced with the reality of a failing war in Afghanistan, it has blamed Pakistan.”
What IS probably new is that the Trump policy is not just to blame Pakistan, but to punish it. As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson put it, the day after the Presidential speech, “Obviously, we have some leverage … in terms of the amount of aid and military assistance we give them, their status as a non-NATO alliance partner. All of that can be put on the table.”
Also on the table would be the whole American-Pakistani relationship, which in turn is central to America’s relations across South Asia. High stakes.
So let’s try to find out the realities on the ground, by asking a few basic questions.
How entrenched and how important is the Pakistani haven for terrorists like the Haqqani network?
Why hasn’t Pakistan been more successful in sealing the border and expelling the terrorists?
What was the Obama Administration’s approach to the problem? How might Trump’s be different and how might that effect Pakistan?
Pamela Constable is The Washington Post’s bureau chief in Afghanistan and Pakistan. She previously served as a South Asia bureau chief and most recently covered immigration in the Washington area for several years. Her books on Pakistan and South Asia, Fragments of Grace and Playing With Fire have been very well reviewed, with the latter being regarded as one of the most authoritative analyses of Pakistan in print.