So after triggering a financial spat with the EU, a trade war with China, sanctioning Russia, killing the Iran deal and muscling a currency collapse in Turkey, Donald Trump has finally ‘put his muscle where his mouth is’ in his standoff with Pakistan. But there’s a reason that Democrats and senior Republicans alike are unhappy with cutting off military cooperation with Pakistan, particularly the prized IMET (International Military Education and Training) program. The last time it was suspended was when President GW Bush invoked the Pressler Amendment in the ‘90s. And, as the Americans later realised, they lost out too because they ‘did not know a decade of Pakistani military leadership well’.
Then there’s the timing of the move. In their latest desperate bid to wrap up the Afghan war, the Americans were relying heavily on Pakistan to ensure continuity of negotiations on the part of the Taliban. And, far more than the utilitarian aspect of being cut off from US tutelage, the Pakistani military will be hurt by the symbolic value of the move and its likely interpretation in the foreign press. Also, Washington must not forget that its crucial supply line into Afghanistan still runs through Pakistan. And for all the benefits its other friends in the region bring, they cannot replace Pakistan’s logistic value.
But it’s not as if the Pakistanis were taken completely off guard by Trump’s bullying tactic. Just two days before the announcement the military signed a contract with the Russians to train Pakistani soldiers there. And this move will naturally push Pakistan closer to China as well. Since China and Russia are pretty good friends between themselves, and neither is going through its best relations with the US at the moment, this should give rise to a natural political as well as geographical alliance. So, at the end of the day, while Trump’s moves might to irreparable damage to Pak-US relations, they might also, however inadvertently, help push Pakistan into a beneficial regional grouping.