The US’s loss is China’s gain in Pakistan

Another tweet in the foot from Donald Trump.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi (R) shakes hands with Pakistan foreign minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif (L) during a press conference at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, 8 September 2017.

At the beginning of January, US President Donald Trump tweeted an anti-Pakistan tirade, saying that all the US had to show for its $33bn in aid to Pakistan over the past 15 years was “lies and deceit”, as Islamabad continued with its support for the very islamist terrorists that the US has allegedly been fighting all these years in Afghanistan and the unruly border regions of Pakistan.

Trump is accusing Pakistan of duplicity, of being a Janus-faced ally, whose intelligence services receive US assistance while providing sanctuary to the Taliban and other outfits fighting against the US and its allies. The US, in Trump’s view, is not getting value from a country whose intelligence services have been guilty of manipulation of jihadi fundamentalists in order partly to keep a hand in the great game that has been under way next door in Afghanistan.

This is Pakistan’s way of acquiring strategic depth in Afghanistan, similar to its attempt to acquire strategic depth in Kashmir through support for jihadi networks there.

Trump followed his tweet by suspending $2bn security assistance to Pakistan until such time as the latter showed sincerity and proof of its willingness to help the US in its ‘war on terror’.

The chief creator of this jihadi network was none other than US imperialism, which financed and ideologically equipped the ‘holy’ warriors who fought against the progressive Afghan government and its Soviet backers in the 1970s and 80s. In addition to the huge quantities of lethal weaponry the US supplied, it helped to spread the poisonous ideology of religious fundamentalism.

The Pakistani ruling class, especially its military establishment, eagerly joined the US in the latter’s war against, and the ultimate overthrow of, the progressive Afghan regime, which eventually brought the Taliban to power.

The US had no problem with the Taliban government until it fell out with it over the question of constructing oil pipelines through Afghan territory. Thwarted on this question by the Taliban government, the US took advantage of the dramatic 11 September 2001 (‘9/11’) New York bombings, mendaciously blamed on the Taliban, as a convenient pretext for the ‘war on terror’, which the Bush administration began with its barbarous war on Afghanistan.

The war quickly resulted in the overthrow of that country’s government, and was followed by the brutal invasion of Iraq, which in turn resulted in the overthrow of the Iraqi government of President Saddam Hussein, the devastation of Iraq and the cold-blooded murder of over 2 million Iraqis and the displacement of several million more.

Conflicting interests and escalating tensions

US-Pakistani relations, which had begun to cool after the defeat of the progressive Najibullah government in Afghanistan, became especially tense after 9/11 and the US invasion of Afghanistan, as the US suspected Pakistan of covertly supporting the Taliban.

The Bush administration threatened Pakistan that the US would “bomb Pakistan back to the stone age” if it did not stop its support for the Afghan Taliban and help the US in its war through intelligence sharing and providing logistical facilities. It was not an offer that Pakistan had the luxury of refusing.

While feigning support for the US in its war in Afghanistan, Pakistan continued, albeit discreetly, its contacts with the Taliban. These contacts are not the work of ‘rogue’ operatives; they are the doings of Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency, the ISI (Inter-Services Agency), which is always headed by “a three-star general, fully plugged into the whisky-sipping military elite who fitfully allow dodgy civilians to govern Pakistan”. (China will benefit from Trump’s tantrum by Michael Burleigh, The Times, 10 January 2018)

The ISI deluded itself into believing that the jihadis could be divided into ‘good’ and ‘bad’; that while assisting the US in killing ‘bad’ jihadis, it could maintain covert relations with the ‘good’ ones so as to be able to manipulate the government in Kabul and prevent Afghanistan from drifting away from Pakistan.

In the end, ignoring Pakistan’s protestations, the US unleashed an indiscriminate drone war in Pakistan, which was intensified by the Pentagon after it found out that Osama bin Laden had been living comfortably for six years in a building just a stone’s throw away from Pakistan’s Abbottabad military academy.

Notwithstanding its barbarous 18-year long war in Afghanistan, its drone war in Pakistan, and the killing of Osama bin Laden, the US is not winning, and never will win, in its war against the Afghan people, who, through presently led by medieval outfits, are fighting a just people’s war for their sovereignty and national liberation from the US-led imperialist occupation forces.

Frustrated with their failures, US administrations regularly blame third parties for their inability to win.

Renewed rapprochement with China

While sympathising with Trump’s frustration, thoughtful bourgeois observers and commentators are all of the view that his latest action vis-a-vis Pakistan is a strategic blunder that can play to the advantage of the People’s Republic of China, which only recently convened talks between Afghanistan and Pakistan to help the two countries resolve their differences. China has also hosted at least two Taliban delegations over the past three years to bring the liberation forces into these discussions.

China has close economic and diplomatic ties to Pakistan. It has invested large amounts in the port of Gwadar to bring it up to the standards of Singapore, and Chinese-funded factories in Pakistan are manufacturing consumer durables for export. China is also promising to spend $60bn in investments in connection with a new Afghan-Pakistan-China economic corridor – an offshoot of the One Belt One Road infrastructure project linking China with Europe, among other places.

What Trump has done is to alienate Pakistan, perhaps terminally, and push it closer to China.

The Financial Times of 12 January reported that in response to Trump’s insults and his decision to cut off military assistance, Pakistan has halted intelligence sharing with the US, thus hampering the latter’s operations in Afghanistan and leaving it reliant on air surveillance and intercepted communications, which are no substitute for intelligence gathering on the ground. (Pakistan halts intelligence-sharing with US after aid suspension by Farhan Bokhari, Katrina Manson and Kiran Stacey)

Khurram Dastgir Khan, Pakistan’s defence minister, has said that Pakistan was considering the radical option of preventing US forces from using Pakistani territory as a land route to Afghanistan. If these supply routes were to be closed, the alternative routes would run through Iran or through central Asia. The first of these is closed to the US for obvious reasons, while the second would require cooperation with Russia, which is hardly convenient, given the state of present-day Russian-American relations.

Thus, the closure of land and air routes by Pakistan (as it did briefly in 2011) would jeopardise the lives of US military personnel and even further damage US military operations in Afghanistan.

Alternatively, Pakistan could demand higher fees for the use of land routes and air space and thus make up for the loss of assistance threatened by Trump.

Pakistani officials have openly declared that they are looking at buying fighter jets and other military equipment from their ‘time-tested’ friend and ‘reliable ally’, China.

“The Americas have been blaming us for a number of years for their war going wrong in Afghanistan,” said a foreign ministry official, adding: “We would have been fools of the highest order if we did not look at diversifying our [military equipment] options.” (Financial Times, op cit)

In view of the differences between the intelligence, maturity, depth of understanding and diplomatic finesse of the Chinese leadership on the one hand, and of Trump’s foreign policy on the other, it requires no exertion of intellect to conclude that China, as indeed Pakistan, is likely to emerge the winner from this episode. After all, “China is an adult kind of place, rather than a belligerent child; it is unlikely to involve intemperate tweets, rather, cold-eyed diplomats and corporate executives with spreadsheets.” (Michael Burleigh, op cit)

If Trump’s tantrums and the reckless actions of his heavily-militarised foreign policy team have managed to wreck US relations with Pakistan and push the latter closer to China, progressive people cannot but rejoice at the spectacle.

After all, what’s not to like?