Trump’s new Afghanistan pol­icy up­sets Pak­istan

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“Pres­i­dent Trump wants to por­tray us as a vil­lain de­spite the huge losses we have suf­fered in the so-called an­titer­ror­ism war,” said Hafiz Ham­dul­lah, a con­ser­va­tive Mus­lim cleric and leg­is­la­tor. “Both In­dia and the U.S. want to use Afghanistan against us. These charges of ter­ror­ist hide­outs are just to desta­bi­lize Pak­istan.”

Mian Raza Rab­bani, the left-lean­ing chair­man of Pak­istan’s Se­nate, de­nounced Trump in sim­i­lar terms. “No coun­try in the world has done more than Pak­istan to counter the men­ace of ter­ror­ism,” he de­clared. In­vok­ing the “legacy of Viet­nam,” he said that if Trump “wants Pak­istan to be­come a grave­yard for U.S. troops, let him do so.”

In tribal re­gions along the bor­der, where U.S. drone strikes have killed hun­dreds of suspected mil­i­tants and civil­ians, one crowd of tribes­men chanted, “Long live Pak­istan.” In an­other spot, re­li­gious ac­tivists held up plac­ards say­ing, “In­dia, Amer­ica and Afghanistan are con­spir­ing against Pak­istan.”

Pak­istan’s Na­tional Se- cu­rity Com­mit­tee, which com­prises top mil­i­tary and civil­ian of­fi­cials, sharply re­jected Trump’s charges of shel­ter­ing in­sur­gents and de­manded that the U.S. mil­i­tary “elim­i­nate sanc­tu­ar­ies for ter­ror­ists” on the Afghan side. “The Afghan war can­not be fought in Pak­istan,” the group de­clared.

Pak­istani of­fi­cials took other steps to show their un­hap­pi­ness. They re­quested that a planned visit by Alice Wells, the se­nior State Depart­ment of­fi­cial deal­ing with the re­gion, be in­def­i­nitely post­poned. Pak­istan’s for­eign min­is­ter, who had been plan­ning a trip to Wash­ing­ton, in­stead an­nounced he would travel to China, Rus­sia and Tur­key.

De­spite the hos­tile rhetoric, there were signs that U.S.-Pak­istan re­la­tions are far from col­laps­ing. Over the past few weeks, sev­eral low-pro­file meet­ings were held be­tween cur­rent and for­mer of­fi­cials from both gov­ern­ments to dis­cuss how to keep re­la­tions on an even keel.

Pak­istani news­pa­pers ran head­lines that blasted Trump as a hec­tor­ing bully but also pub­lished nu­anced com­men- taries call­ing for prag­ma­tism and pa­tience. The edi­tors of Dawn, the coun­try’s most in­flu­en­tial daily pa­per, coun­seled that “there is still space and time for con­struc­tive dia­log. A strate­gic rup­ture is in nei­ther the U.S. nor Pak­istan’s in­ter­est.”

For Pak­istan, the is­sue of mil­i­tant sanc­tu­ar­ies is a fa­mil­iar one; both of Trump’s im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sors pressed Pak­istan to crack down on them but did not take harsh mea­sures, es­pe­cially be­cause Pak­istan was co­op­er­at­ing in the broader anti-ter­ror­ism war. This time, though, Pak­istani of­fi­cials are said to be far more wor­ried that Trump, an un­pre­dictable leader, may fol­low through.

“Trump’s threats are real . . . Mad­ness on our doorstep has al­ready ar­rived,” com­men­ta­tor Syed Talat Hus­sain wrote in The News In­ter­na­tional on Mon­day. He sug­gested that if Trump, “an ig­no­ra­mus ad­dicted to cre­at­ing sen­sa­tion,” or­dered a drone strike in Pak­istani territory — as op­posed to the bor­der tribal areas — it could “get us em­broiled in a war with the U.S. This is deadly se­ri­ous busi­ness.”

Pak­ista­nis have been even more deeply rat­tled by Trump’s warm em­brace of In­dia, where the cur­rent prime min­is­ter is an ar­dent Hindu na­tion­al­ist and In­dian army troops have been wag­ing an ag­gres­sive, month­s­long cam­paign against Mus­lim pro­test­ers in the dis­puted Kash­mir re­gion.

Pak­istan has long pur­sued in­flu­ence in Afghanistan largely as a foil to In­dia, a larger and more pow­er­ful ri­val, only to see New Delhi be­come a ma­jor bene­fac­tor of the Amer­i­can-backed gov­ern­ment in Kabul.

“Trump’s com­ments about In­dia were more un­set­tling for Pak­ista­nis than his threats to Pak­istan,” said Michael Kugel­man, a Pak­istan ex­pert at the Woodrow Wil­son In­ter­na­tional Cen­ter for Schol­ars in Wash­ing­ton. “The U.S. call­ing for a deeper In­dian foot­print in Afghanistan sets off alarm bells across Pak­istan. It will cause very real fear.”

A few Pak­istani voices here have called for a re­think­ing of Pak­istan’s ef­forts to in­flu­ence Afghanistan, not­ing this has cre­ated a bur­den on its re­sources and a spillover of Is­lamist rad­i­cal­iza­tion.

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