President Donald Trump's first tweet of 2018, directed at Pakistan, was predictably clumsy and combative. "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," Trump huffed. "They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!"
As is often the case, the tweet is fact-challenged — $14 billion of that money was actually post-9/11 reimbursements to Pakistan for its support of U.S. anti-terrorism initiatives and operations in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the spirit of Trump's remarks is on the mark.
For years, Pakistan has played a double game with its anti-terrorism efforts. At times, it has been helpful in ferreting out al-Qaida operatives and launched military offensives against its homegrown threat, the Pakistani Taliban. But Washington for years has accused Pakistan of a policy of covertly backing militant groups that target U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan — namely, the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban.
That coziness with extremist groups continues to confound American military commanders. Haqqani and Afghan Taliban militants launch ambushes and bombings on U.S.-allied forces in Afghanistan and then slip back over the border into the badlands of northwest Pakistan, insulated from retaliation by American and Afghan forces. Pakistani leaders issue boilerplate denials that they provide militants safe haven, yet continue the tacit support.
Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, was just as vexed. In August 2016, Obama withheld $300 million in military assistance to Pakistan because of Islamabad's support for the Afghan Taliban and its ally, the Haqqani network. Last summer, the Trump administration signaled its displeasure with Islamabad by putting on hold $255 million in military aid to Pakistan. Administration officials said on Monday that the aid will not be sent to Pakistan.
Obama was right to withhold the money, and so is Trump.
It may not be enough of a cudgel to get Pakistan to change its ways. It certainly hasn't been in the past. But it's hard to justify sending hundreds of millions of dollars in anti-terrorism aid to a country that continues to give shelter to terrorist groups. Assistance to Pakistan has always been framed as incentive for Pakistan to do more in the fight on terror. But the right way to frame the rationale is to flip it around. Aid to Pakistan should be contingent on the country's earnest cooperation in battling terrorists, regardless of their affiliation.
The war in Afghanistan, America's longest ever, is far from over. Afghan Taliban militants control a large chunk of the country, the most since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. Last year, Trump beefed up the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. They aren't a combat force. Instead, they focus on counterterrorism missions and advising Afghan officers who battle Taliban militants.
Without their presence, Kabul's dysfunctional government likely wouldn't be able to reverse Taliban momentum. But just as critical to the mission in Afghanistan is Pakistan's cooperation.
Pakistan's longstanding under-the-table policy of drawing distinctions between terrorists to target and terrorists to coddle is bad policy for the simple reason that terrorism under any banner is wrong and lethal to innocents. In Afghanistan, terrorism equals instability on Pakistan's doorstep. That's not good for the U.S. and the rest of the West, but it's also not good for Pakistan and its wrecked economy. Doling out more U.S. money to Pakistan year after year hasn't made its leaders realize that. Freezing the aid sends a stronger message.
REPRINTED FROM THE FROM THE JACKSONVILLE DAILY NEWS