By Drazen Jorgic
ISLAMABAD, Aug 24 – Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi will meet with powerful Pakistani generals on Thursday to formulate a response to the new U.S. policy on Afghanistan that includes greater pressure on Islamabad to do more to rein in militants.
President Donald Trump has chastised Pakistan for harbouring “agents of chaos” and providing safe havens to militant groups waging an insurgency against a U.S.-backed government in Kabul, saying Islamabad must promptly change tack.
White House officials have gone further and threatened aid and military cuts, as well as other measures to force nuclear-armed Pakistan’s hand and bring about an end to the 16-year-war.
Abbasi has not responded yet to Trump’s remarks but Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said Washington should not use Pakistan as a “scapegoat” for its failures in America’s longest running war. Pakistan denies harbouring militants.
As is often the case with Pakistan, the final decision about how to proceed with rest with the military, which has ruled the country for nearly half its 70-year history. It calls the shots on key parts of Pakistan’s foreign policy, including ties with the United States, Afghanistan and arch-foe India.
Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who will be part of the National Security Council meeting on Thursday, a day earlier met with U.S. Ambassador David Hale and said Islamabad wanted trust and understanding rather than U.S. aid money.
Pakistani officials bristle at what they say is a lack of respect by Washington for the country’s sacrifices in the war against militancy and its successes against groups like al Qaeda, Islamic State or the Pakistani Taliban.
Pakistan estimates there have been 70,000 casualties in militant attacks since it joined the U.S. “war on terrorism” after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
“We feel the American administration led by Mr Trump has been totally one sided, unfair to Pakistan and does not appreciate and recognise Pakistan has been a pivotal player…in the campaign against terrorism,” Senator Mushahid Hussain, chairman of the senate defence committee, told Reuters on Thursday.
Pakistani officials have also been angered by Trump imploring old rival India to play a greater role in reconstructing Afghanistan, warning a greater Indian role in Kabul could be a threat to regional peace.
Pakistan fears New Delhi’s greater influence in Afghanistan would leave it sandwiched by India, its bigger neighbour against whom it has fought three wars since independence in 1947.
Analysts have also warned putting greater pressure on Pakistan risks driving Islamabad deeper into the arms of China, its northern neighbour which is investing nearly $60 billion in infrastructure projects as part of its Belt and Road initiative.
China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, told U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a phone call the United States must value Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan and respect its security concerns, according to Chinese state media.
“Things have changed since 9/11,” added Hussain.
“The U.S. today has far more diminished clout and leverage in the region and we have far more strategic space and options in our foreign policy.”
The relationship between the two countries has endured periods of extreme strain in recent years, especially after al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was found and killed by U.S. special forces in Pakistan in a 2011 raid.