Donald Trump has at least finally said it like it is.
But the US must shake off its obsession for removing strongmen leaders of Muslim countries and get down to defanging Pakistan, the real custodian of terror.
Donald Trump gave Pakistan a savage News Year’s gift when he tweeted that Pakistan had been deceiving and lying to the US while taking billions of dollars in American aid. It is encouraging that an American president has finally said it like it is. How Pakistan turned the disaster of the 11 September 2001 attacks into its own triumph and caused the defeat of the United States in its war on terror, is a study in masterly statecraft.
Pakistan has been a state sponsor of Islamist terrorism since at least 1989. With the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in the February of that year, Pakistan wasted no time in swinging its jihad operations from that theatre towards India in Kashmir. The thinking went that if the Soviet superpower could be felled by a well organised jihad, India wouldn’t stand a chance. Pakistan began a massive assault on India through its terrorist proxies, first the supposedly secular Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front and then by savagely hard-core Islamist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harkat-ul-Ansar, Jaish-e-Mohammad, and Hizbul Mujahideen. As it turned out, Pakistan had miscalculated. India, after initially being caught on the back foot, pushed back and over the years eventually exhausted Pakistan’s supply of well trained, battle hardened mujahideen.
During these years in the 1990s, the US made a fatal strategic error that was to culminate in 9/11 and futile multi-trillion-dollar wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. While India was making a noise about how Pakistan was running a vast jihad factory and using it in a massive campaign of Islamist terrorism, the United States chose to go along with the Pakistani lie that it only provided “moral and diplomatic support against Indian oppression”.
It was during these years that Pakistan was also helping the Taliban consolidate its takeover of Afghanistan, and empowering the likes of Mullah Omar to create the first ISIS-like state in the modern world. The US kept its eyes closed to how Pakistan gave birth to a vast empire of organised, militarised jihad, the hydra that has become the cancer of Islamist terrorism infesting the world today.
The September 11 attacks, birthed in Pakistan’s jihad empire, put Pakistan in a very difficult position. George W Bush declared “with us or against us” and the then US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage threatened to bomb Pakistan “into the stone age”. Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf was faced with disaster. Pakistan could not refuse the extremely agitated and belligerent US. But cooperating with the US sincerely would devastate Pakistan’s most potent weapon in its geostrategic war against India. The Americans simply did not realise how existential Pakistan’s conflict with India is, how the Pakistani state exists and survives for nothing but the passion to defeat India in a civilisational war against the hated idolators. Moreover, after having become jihad central, Pakistan faced a war against itself by its own jihadi empire if it did America’s bidding.
Pakistan initially conceded to American demands for cooperation in order to buy breathing room, but by 2003 it had implemented a strategy for preserving its jihad machine and taking America hostage while ensuring the failure of American objectives in Afghanistan. Fifteen years later, Pakistan has ensured that its Islamist proxies in Afghanistan have survived and will take over again as soon as the Americans give up on whatever little fraction of their original objectives that they have managed to achieve, all the while extracting billions of dollars of military and monetary aid from the US.
Effectively, Pakistan trapped the US into having to pay it bribes for its cooperation, while ensuring that the US failed in Afghanistan. It has done so with a cunning understanding of American domestic dynamics that it learned over the decades as it worked to turn the US into a force multiplier for itself against India while dealing with the unreliability of American interest and perceptions.
Pakistan understood that the US did not have the political will to stay in Afghanistan as seriously and as long as it would take to exhaust Pakistan’s ability to interfere in that country. Pakistan also understood that the US did not have the stomach for the scale of casualties it would have to suffer, and could be made to suffer, to achieve a viable, stable, democratic Afghanistan. And Pakistan understood the treacherous, venal, vengeful dynamics of greed and power between the various factions in Afghanistan, and how to manipulate and control them, which the US did not.
Pakistan’s strategy therefore was to do everything possible to ensure that the US objectives were not met and that Pakistan came out at the end as the patron of the factions that would win and take over after the US had exhausted itself. Moreover, America could be made to pay very richly indeed for its folly. Even as the Americans were made to realise that it would not have its way in Afghanistan, they were also made to pay Pakistan for its pretend cooperation in this war.
In effect, the US has been mugged by Pakistan’s mastery of its own environment, its keen instinct for the weaknesses of the United States, and its understanding of primitive forms of statecraft revolving around religion, tribe, dissimulation, treachery and deceit that democracies are ill equipped to comprehend, deal with, or displace.
Had the Americans paid attention to India’s warnings throughout the 1990s of the vast jihad machinery that Pakistan had set up, all this might have been avoided, including the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As it is, Pakistan and its Islamist terror proxies have defeated 15 years and two presidents worth of American effort to rein them in. The foolishness of American leadership through all this has been to not designate Pakistan itself as the enemy, instead carrying on a charade of fixing Afghanistan with reluctant Pakistani cooperation.
Donald Trump has at least finally said it like it is. But it’s far from clear whether anything will come out of this, whether the US will actually get serious about working out and implementing a strategy that finally defangs Pakistan. It’s quite doable. But if the US keeps obsessing only about Iran and on removing various strongmen leaders of Muslim countries (Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad) for the Saudis while letting Pakistan, the custodian of the Sunni nukes, the most powerful Muslim military, and the largest, most organised jihadi infrastructure, carry on as it has been for decades, then only defeat and humiliation at Pakistan’s hands awaits the United States.