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Trump's Letter to Pakistan

14 January 2019
Trumps Letter to Pakistan

With one of US President Trump’s first tweets of 2018 being about Pakistan, in which he said that they had “foolishly” provided more than USD 33 billion in aid to Pakistan and got nothing but “lies and deceit” in return, it became clear that Pakistan would be one of the priorities of US foreign policy in 2018.

It was not surprising for Trump to have targeted Pakistan in such a manner. In the National Security Strategy of the USA announced in December 2017, it was stated that the USA continued to face threats from terrorist organisations active in Pakistan, that the US administration should guard against attempts to destabilise Pakistan and would put pressure on it to combat terrorism and that the USA could not remain friends and partners with any country sponsoring terrorism. 1

Right after Trump’s tweet on Pakistan, the US administration announced that it was suspending military aid to Pakistan for hosting jihadist terrorist organisations. The suspension of US military aid was predictably met by reaction from the Pakistani government.

The intention of the US administration in suspending military aid to Pakistan at the risk of straining relations with the country further was to ensure that Pakistan took tangible steps for combating terrorism and the pressure was increased in September. The US administration announced that it was reprogramming USD 300 million worth of aid to Pakistan for not taking strong enough steps to combat the Taleban and other organisations and that the amount would be spent on other priorities. 2

The aim of the US administration is to have Pakistan take tangible steps for combating terrorisms and the means it is employing to this end is the suspension of military aid
The suspension of US military aid should be seen as a preference for the stick over the carrot in its Pakistan policy. However, there are questions regarding whether the stick will serve the desired purpose, or whether it might result in undesirable complications for the USA. Experts on the region have stated that the suspension of US aid will hurt efforts to combat terrorism, will not put the expected pressure on Pakistan, which has developed alternatives 3 and can replace US aid with Chinese aid.4 It is already observed that China is gradually replacing the USA in terms of investments and foreign aid in Pakistan. 5 China is lowering Pakistan’s dependence on the USA. In a press interview in December, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan markedly said that they want to establish ties with the USA along the basis of the Pakistani-Chinese relationship. 6

Thus Khan offered China as an example to the USA. However, what Khan intended was not to remind people of the robustness of the relationship between Pakistan and China but to intimidate the USA using the US-Chinese competition in Asia. Pakistan leaving the US camp will not serve US interests in the competition with China in Asia. Pakistan being lost to the USA will contribute to China’s existing advantages in Asia resulting from geographical proximity. Under the circumstances, the USA needs to maintain a fine balance between putting pressure on Pakistan and not distancing Pakistan from the USA.

While it is a curious question hoe the USA will manage to establish this fine balance, in the first week of December, Prime Minister Khan stated that he had received a letter from Trump asking for aid and cooperation from Pakistan in advancing peace talks with the Taleban. Pakistani Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that in his letter, Trump had written that relations with Pakistan were very significant, especially for ensuring peace in Afghanistan. 7 Pakistani Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Faisal said that in his letter Trump had written that the most important regional priority was solving the Afghanistan issue, that he had asked for Pakistan’s support to this end and had emphasised the two countries looking for way of working together and renewing their partnership.8

According to information in the Pakistani press, Khan will respond positively to Trump’s letter and emphasise the development of economic and trade ties between the two countries.9
Trump’s letter must be seen as a sign that he does not want to further strain relations with Pakistan. While the letter may stop rising tensions, to what extent it will reconcile the sides is unclear. However, the significance of the letter is not up for question, in that it shows that Pakistan cannot be held outside of the peace process in Afghanistan.

In his letter, Trump has stated that Pakistani support will be sought for establishing peace in Afghanistan and that the US and Pakistani administrations are of one mind regarding the peace process. The Pakistani government wanted to be involved in the peace process with the claim that no progress could be made in any efforts excluding Pakistan. With his letter asking for help Trump seems to have confirmed the Pakistani claim.

In conclusion, Trump’s letter to Pakistan is an important step in containing tensions in the relationship between the two countries and the reason for this move is that the US administration is aware of the limitations and complications of the stick policy towards Pakistan.

 This article previously published in The Diplomatic Observer January Issue 2019

1-Dilek Yiğit, Trump’dan Yeni Yılın İlk Tweet’i: Şaşırdık mı?,–doc-dr-dilek-yigit.html, 2 January 2018
2-, 1 September 2018
3-, 5 January 2018
4-, 5 January 2018
5-, 16 November 2018
6-, 7 December 2018
7-, 3 December 2018
8-, 3 December 2018
9-, 7 December 2018