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US President Donald Trump’s tweets have set off fireworks of a different kind in Pakistan than those that greeted the New Year. In a blistering attack, Mr Trump lashed out at Pakistan for hoodwinking the world, especially the US with its counter-terrorism masquerade, and threated to hold up $255 million in foreign military aid to Islamabad.

If Trump’s dire warnings have rattled Pakistan’s powerful civilian-military establishment, they have brought much cheer in India, which will be monitoring closely whether a beleaguered Islamabad will now walk the talk on terror. While there has been no official response from New Delhi to Mr Trump’s recent tweets, it is quite certain that the tightening of the noose around Pakistan will help India in intensifying its pressure on Pakistan to take concrete actions against terror outfits operating from its territory.

“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 and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” an angry Trump tweeted, dampening New Year festivities for Pakistan’s rulers.

US mounting pressure on Pakistan

Since announcing the Afghan policy last August, the US has stepped up its rhetorical attack on Pakistan, revealing its growing frustration with its long- time problematic ally. The outburst is seen as reaction to the consistent thwarting of US interests and demands by the Pakistani establishment in the fight against terror. The continued support provided to the Taliban leaders inside Pakistan was pointed out by Gen. John Nicholson, commander of the NATO coalition in Afghanistan in November, when he accused Islamabad of sheltering drug-lords.

The US Congress’s removal of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) from the list of groups against which Pakistan was required to act in exchange for aid bore little fruit. Islamabad’s covert support for the Haqqani network was evident when it denied America the access to the operative who was captured during the rescue of an American-Canadian couple last October. The release of 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed by a Pakistani court in November drew a sharp response from the US administration that demanded “immediate re-arrest and prosecution” of the LeT mastermind.

“The president has made clear the US expects Pakistan to take decisive action against terrorists and militants on its soil, and that Pakistan’s actions in support of the South Asia strategy will ultimately determine the trajectory of our relationship, including future security assistance,” a White House national security council spokesman said.

Pakistan’s retort

Pakistan has predictably fallen back on its victim card. Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khwaja Asif tweeted, “Pak as anti-terror ally has given free to US: land & air communication, military bases & intel cooperation that decimated Al-Qaeda over last 16yrs, but they have given us nothing but invective & mistrust. They overlook cross-border safe havens of terrorists who murder Pakistanis”. The establishment’s first response was to officially summon US ambassador in Islamabad David Hale to demand an explanation. While the details of the discussion have not emerged, the streets in Karachi saw protests by a group of religious-political parties. The statement that came out after the meeting of Pakistan’s National Security Committee denounced Trump’s remarks as “completely incomprehensible”. “They contradicted facts manifestly, struck with great insensitivity at the trust between two nations built over generations,” the statement said.

Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani observed quite perceptively that “It’s the first time a US president has put his own name and reputation behind the pressure on Pakistan. George [W] Bush never said anything directly and Barack Obama, even after the discovery of Osama bin Laden, left it to officials to deliver the message of displeasure.”

China springs to Pakistan’s defence

Isolated for its consistent use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy, Pakistan found some solace from its all-weather mentor. Expressing China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang dismissed Trump’s allegations saying “Pakistan has made enormous efforts and sacrifice for the fight against terrorism and has made very outstanding contribution to the global cause of counter terrorism. The international community should acknowledge that”.”China and Pakistan are all weather partners. We stand ready to promote and deepen our all-round cooperation so as to bring benefits to the two sides,” he added.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has deepened Beijing’s stakes in promoting Pakistan’s interests. In the first trilateral meeting of the foreign ministers of China, Pakistan and Afghanistan last week, Beijing declared its plan to extend the CPEC to Afghanistan. Denying that the tweets from the American President would affect its commitment to the Af-Pak peace process, Mr Geng said “We believe as neighbours China, Pakistan and Afghanistan are closely linked not only geographically but also in terms of common interests. It is natural for us to enhance communication and exchanges”.

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