Jan 09, 2018 17:12 UTC

The US State Department announced that it is suspending virtually all security aid to Pakistan.

The move will impact an estimated $1 billion annually, including hundreds of millions of dollars in the so-called Afghan War Coalition payments. The decision will exacerbate geopolitical tensions throughout the already highly volatile South Asian region, which has become somehow polarized between the rival India-US and China-Pakistan military-strategic alliances. The Trump administration has justified the aid cut by citing Islamabad’s alleged continued ties to elements of the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. The latter is a militant group that is allied with the Taliban, and reportedly, enjoys a safe haven in parts of Pakistan’s Tribal areas, and has carried out some of the deadliest attacks on the US-led forces in neighboring Afghanistan. Political observer Jordan Shilton has more on the US decision to suspend the so-called "security" aid to Pakistan.

In a tweet three days prior to the announcement, US President Donald Trump wrote, “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

The recent decision is part of the implementation of the strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia that Trump announced in August. In a speech delivered to a military audience, the US president vowed to maintain an indefinite, i.e., permanent, US occupation of Afghanistan and untie the hands of the military to wage an even more brutal neocolonial war allegedly against the Taliban and other groups.

Trump also put Pakistan on notice that if it didn’t fall into line with the US strategy, Washington would move to curtail ties between the two countries. In background briefings, aides said Pakistan could lose its status as a so-called non-NATO partner of the US and even be labeled a state sponsor of terrorism. The 16-year-old Afghan war has already claimed the lives of tens of thousands of innocent civilians and forced millions to flee their homes.

The August strategy shift played a major part in tripling the number of bombs dropped by the US Air Force on the country last year. Trump gave military commanders a free hand to escalate the conflict, with air strikes no longer having to be approved by the White House.

In 2002, in the immediate aftermath of the launching of the Afghan war, US security aid to Pakistan amounted to $1.6 billion annually, but this has since dropped. The US State Department has said that monies the US pays to fund Pakistan’s participation in military operations in Afghanistan will be reinstated if Islamabad takes steps to clamp down on terrorist groups. Reports suggest that the US could continue to transfer some aid on an approach for identifiable purposes.
The provocative character of the US State Department’s announcement was underscored by comments made by Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster. McMaster declared, US-Pakistan relations can "no longer bear the weight of contradictions," adding that Trump was "frustrated with Pakistan’s behavior of supporting terrorist groups". In a barely disguised threat that Washington is ready to dramatically ratchet up tensions with Islamabad and even confront it militarily, McMaster continued, “Pakistan could be on a path to increased security and prosperity, or it could be on a path to replicating North Korea. I think that’s an easy choice for Pakistani leaders.”

The accusation of support for terrorist groups is particularly hypocritical coming from Washington. It was the US that infiltrated Afghan Mujahedeen ranks through the Pakistani intelligence to help build a base for pro-American elements in the 1980s in the fight against the Soviets. Moreover, Washington has time and again used certain militia as shock troops in its regime-change drives in the Middle East, including in Libya and Syria.

Pakistan’s maintenance of the alleged relations with the Taliban is above all the result of US imperialism’s aggressive moves to reorder the entire South Asian region, as it seeks to build new alliances capable of economically and militarily confronting its chief rival, China. To this end, over the course of the past decade and a half, Washington drastically downgraded Pakistan’s status as its main ally in the region and instead partnered with India, Islamabad’s arch-nemesis.
First under George W. Bush and then under Barack Obama and his “pivot to Asia,” which aimed to strategically, economically and militarily isolate and encircle China, Washington singled out India for special attention. New Delhi has been the recipient of numerous military and strategic favors from the US. In return, India has thrown open its ports and military bases to US warplanes and battleships; shares intelligence with the Pentagon; and in most cases backs the provocative US stances on the South China Sea dispute and North Korea. Under Trump, the US has pledged to take strategic ties with India to a new level. As US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson put it in October during a visit to Afghanistan, “Our view of the relationship with India is one that’s of strategic importance, not just for this specific region,” but for “a free and open Indo-Pacific region stretching all the way from Japan to India.”

The Trump administration has now declared it a priority to integrate India into the so-called Quad, a US-led military and strategic partnership aimed at combating rising Chinese influence, which, in addition to New Delhi, includes US imperialism’s foremost Indo-Pacific allies, Japan and Australia.

This has not only inflamed tensions between China and India, who fought an undeclared war in 1962 and faced off over the remote Doklam Plateau for two and a half months in 2017. It is also encouraging India in its stance vis-a-vis Pakistan. The two nuclear countries, who have engaged in four wars and numerous lower-intensity conflicts since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, confront each other with ever greater hostility as their regional rivalry becomes entangled with US imperialism’s aggressive war drive against China. Pakistan has reacted to the cooling of relations with Washington by developing closer ties with its longtime ally China. Beijing has pledged to invest $57 billion in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a major project aimed at building transportation infrastructure between the two countries to establish Chinese access to the Arabian Sea port of Gwadar. From Beijing’s standpoint, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is critical to enabling the Chinese to counteract US plans to economically strangle the country in the event of war by seizing chokepoints in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea so as to impose an economic blockade. 

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is part of China’s more comprehensive One Belt, One Road (OBOR) strategy, which seeks to expand Chinese economic ties with Europe, the Middle East and Africa. This represents a direct challenge to US global hegemony and is viewed as intolerable by the US ruling elite, which has increasingly resorted to military force over the past quarter-century in a desperate bid to offset its protracted economic decline. In recent months, the US has joined India and Japan in publicly opposing the One Belt, One Road initiative.

The Pakistani ruling elite has denounced the Trump administration’s move to suspend security aid. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement “Arbitrary deadlines, unilateral pronouncements and shifting goal posts are counterproductive in addressing common threats”. Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif declared in an interview that the US is no longer a friend or ally, but “a friend who always betrays.” Opposition leader Imran Khan took a harder line, urging Pakistan to cut supply lines used by the US to transport equipment to its 14,000 troops in Afghanistan. Pakistan blocked the supply lines during 2011 and 2012 for several months, following the secret US operation to kill Osama Bin Laden on Pakistani soil and the bombing by the US of a Pakistani army post, killing over 20 soldiers.

China’s Foreign Ministry reacted to the stepped-up criticism of Pakistan by the Trump administration in a statement by spokesman Geng Shuang, who said Pakistan had “made great efforts and sacrifices in combating terrorism.” However, India has applauded Washington’s denunciations of Pakistani support for what Washington put forth as “terrorism.”

The deepening of US-Pakistan tensions thus has major regional and global implications. It may further inflame Pakistan-India and India-China antagonisms, and, in so doing, those between China and the US. All are nuclear powers.