ISLAMABAD: A day after the US president’s New Year tweet accusing Pakistan of ‘lies and deceit’, the country’s civil and military leadership showed an unprecedented restraint, saying they would not act in haste despite Donald Trump’s onslaught.
Contrary to a media hype and rhetoric, the National Security Committee (NSC) after three-hour brainstorming reached a consensus that despite ‘unwarranted allegations, Pakistan cannot act in haste’.
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi presided over the meeting of the highest decision making forum on national security held to discuss the possible fallout of Trump’s stinging tweet. The huddle was attended by the three services as well as intelligence chiefs and key federal ministers besides the ambassador to the United States.
All eyes were on the NSC as to how Pakistan would respond to President Trump’s latest diatribe that suggests fast deterioration in the already tense relationship.
But surprisingly, the civil and military authorities opted to show restraint. Although they expressed disappointment over recent statements by American leadership, they did not even directly mention Trump’s tweet.
An official told media after the closed-door meeting that the participants strongly believed that Pakistan must not give any ‘knee jerk’ reaction to the tweet. They agreed that despite Trump’s statement, Pakistan must still reach out to the US to find common ground.
The reason behind the apparently subdued response stems from the potential implications the country may have to deal with in case of unraveling of ties between the two countries.
Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, who earlier chaired an unannounced meeting of the corps commanders, also suggested diplomacy rather than confrontation. Sources said the top brass also agreed that while Pakistan must not compromise its core national interests and sovereignty, it should not go into a confrontational mode with the US.
A handout issued by the Foreign Office said the NSC reached a consensus that Pakistan would remain committed to playing a constructive role towards an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process, not just for the sake of its own people, but also for the peace and security of the region and international community.
The committee reaffirmed that “Pakistanis are a people who hold dear their national pride, who are capable of defending their country and who have demonstrated exceptional commitment to counter terrorism and to work for regional peace and stability”. It noted with deep disappointment some recent statements by the American leadership.
It observed that the close interaction with the US leadership following the pronouncement of President Trump’s policy on South Asia had been useful in creating a better understanding of each other’s perspectives on the best way forward to achieve durable peace and stability in Afghanistan. The visits to the country of US secretaries Rex Tillerson and Jim Mattis were termed robust and forward-looking.
The committee said that given this positive direction, recent statements by the American leadership were incomprehensible as they manifestly contradicted facts, struck with great insensitivity at the trust between the two nations built over generations and negated the decades of sacrifices made by the Pakistani nation that had contributed so significantly to regional and global security and peace.
The participants noted that over the past several years, Pakistan’s counterterrorism campaign had served as bulwark against possible expansion of scores of terrorist organisations present in Afghanistan — a fact acknowledged by US authorities at the highest levels.
“Most of these terrorists have repeatedly launched cross-border attacks against innocent Pakistanis with impunity by exploiting presence of millions of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, a porous Pak-Afghan border and large tracts of ungoverned spaces inside Afghanistan.”
The committee said Pakistan had fought the war against terrorism primarily out of its own resources and at a great cost to its economy. Even more importantly, the huge sacrifices made by Pakistan, including the loss of tens of thousands of lives of civilians and security personnel, and the pain of their families, could not be trivialised so heartlessly by pushing all of it behind a monetary value — and that too an imagined one, it said.
It said Pakistan was firmly supporting the US-led international effort in Afghanistan; that it was continuously facilitating this through vital lines of communications for smooth counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan by the international coalition and that as a result of Pakistan’s counterterrorism cooperation, Al-Qaeda had been decimated from the region.
It was mostly because of this support that Pakistan was suffering a brutal backlash, including the killing of hundreds of its schoolchildren by terrorists based in Afghanistan, it added.
The committee was of the firm view that the real challenges in Afghanistan were political infighting, massive corruption, phenomenal growth of drug production and expansion of ungoverned spaces inside the country full of sanctuaries for multiple international terrorist organisations posing a serious and direct threat to Afghanistan, its neighbours and the entire region.
It observed that Pakistan could not be held responsible for the collective failure in Afghanistan. Blaming allies did not serve the shared objective of achieving lasting peace in the region, including Afghanistan, the NSC added.