The Pakistan Triangle

Who was the target of President Trump’s first 2018 tweet? Not North Korea, Iran, Democrats, or the “failing NY Times.” The winner is… Pakistan.


“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, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

This is another issue where Trump makes a fair point his critics won’t acknowledge while also oversimplifying a complex issue. Pakistan has cashed a lot of US checks over the years, and its military still seems more interested in antagonizing India than in eliminating terrorists who pose threats beyond Pakistan’s borders.

And no one in Washington has forgotten that when US special forces found and killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, he was living in Abbottabad, Pakistan, close enough to the country’s elite military academy he could have ordered a pizza from the school cafeteria and strolled over to pick it up. Trump has threatened to withhold $255 million in military aid to this Cold War/“War on Terror” ally.

Here’s the complication: China will fill any vacuum the US leaves in Pakistan. “Pakistan has made enormous efforts and sacrifice for the fight against terrorism,” said a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman on Tuesday. China and Pakistan, he added, are “all-weather partners.” Trump is right: Pakistan doesn’t fully deliver on counter-terrorism. But US aid also buys US influence. Is Trump’s threat just another hardball negotiating tactic, or will he give China new leverage in South Asia?

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