If we fantasized that one of President Trump’s New Year’s resolutions would be limiting his tweets, our hopes were quickly dashed in his very first tweet of 2018, directed, inexplicably, towards Pakistan.
Trump tweeted: 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!
As part of Intersections’ US-Pakistan Interreligious Consortium (UPIC), I have been to Pakistan six times over the past five years and have talked with hundreds of Pakistanis, from students to street sweepers. I can say confidently that President Trump’s tweet and the mindset it represents is an inaccurate reflection of the Pakistani people and demonstrates a narrow-minded and short-sighted view of international diplomacy.
In Pakistan, I constantly encountered young people eager to know their American counterparts and to forge partnerships that advance social well-being, economic development and human security. I have been in conversation with community leaders—religious, academic, government, military—who have earnestly sought cooperative approaches between our two peoples to enhance the quality of life in our respective societies and respect between us. It is impossible to overstate the eagerness with which Pakistanis approached us in an effort to deepen mutual understanding. This is not to deny that geopolitical jockeying takes place—but it happens on both sides of the equation; Pakistanis are well aware of the failures of their own government leaders as well as ours.
Trump also threatened to further hold up a US Aid package for Pakistan already approved by Congress.
Pakistan’s Defense Minister tweeted in response: 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.
What is really going on here? Is it because President Trump has business interests in India, Pakistan’s arch enemy? Is it another Administration attempt at distraction? Is there something deeper?
Junaid Ahmad, Director for the Center for Global Dialogue, Assistant Professor at the University of Management and Technology (UMT) in Lahore and Secretary-General of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), has been one of the organizing forces behind UPIC. He writes, “this sudden eruption from Trump…seems to be deeply rooted in the shifting global geopolitical balance of power… What Washington fears most, and hence will try to undermine as best it can, is a Syria redux, where ultimately the Russians, Iranians and the Turks simply sorted out the modalities of a stable, post-war Syria amongst themselves. There was no invitation to or input from the U.S. Having this mirror reflecting the face of an increasingly ignored and weakened empire, repeatedly confronting Uncle Sam at every corner, is what will continue to generate these panic-stricken imperial tweets for the foreseeable future.”
Another UPIC delegate, Chicago’s Imam Malik Mujahid, received a report from the Pakistani embassy about the January 2 meeting of the Pakistani Security Committee in response to Trump’s tweet: “The Committee observed that Pakistan has fought the war against terrorism primarily out of its own resources and at a great cost to its economy, and that even more importantly the huge sacrifices made by Pakistan, including the loss of tens of thousands of lives of Pakistani civilians and security personnel, and the pain of their families, could not be trivialised so heartlessly by pushing all of it behind a monetary value – and that too an imagined one.
“The Committee further observed that even today Pakistan was firmly supporting the US-led international effort in Afghanistan; that it was continuously facilitating this through vital lines of communications for smooth counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan by the international coalition; that as a result of Pakistan’s counter-terrorism cooperation, Al-Qaeda had been decimated from the region; and that it was mostly because of this support that Pakistan was suffering a brutal backlash, including the killing of hundred of its schoolchildren by terrorists based in Afghanistan…and that blaming allies certainly does not serve the shared objective of achieving lasting peace in Afghanistan and the region.
“Despite all unwarranted allegations, Pakistan cannot act in haste and will remain committed to playing a constructive role towards an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process, not just for the sake of its own people, but also for the peace and security of the region and international community. The Committee reaffirmed that Pakistanis are a people who hold dear their national pride, who are capable of defending their country, and who have demonstrated exceptional commitment to counter terrorism and to work for regional peace and stability.”
Tim Frakes, videographer also from Chicago who has traveled with UPIC, posted a video plea to “Christians, Jews and Muslims and all people of good will to call on US and Pakistani leadership to reflect on the faithful foundations of their respective societies and renew efforts to find sustainable paths toward a just, constructive and peaceful relationship between both societies.”
Empathy, depth of understanding and practical, productive actions are elements that make for peace. I wish our President was less obsessed with the size of buttons and more in tune with the nuances and aspirations of those about whom he speaks so carelessly.