Perception is often stronger than reality. And that seems to be the case with Pakistan’s counter terrorism campaign. Despite paying enormous sacrifices— both in terms of men and material— and phenomenal gains against terrorism, the country continues to be haunted by allegations of duplicity.
Pakistan, however, was hoping that this narrative might change with the unexpected election of Donald Trump as US President. (a) Because Trump probably would not carry the baggage of Obama years (b) his credentials of being anti-establishment might change the White House’s conventional approach.
Almost seven months into his office, President Trump seems to be following the same old and familiar template on Pakistan. The latest statement by US National Security Adviser Gen H R McMaster that Trump wants Pakistan to change its ‘paradoxical’ approach is an ominous sign of things to come and hence a cause of concern for both sitting in the power corridors of Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
Many in the US believe that Pakistan has spared the Haqqani Network in order to further its interests in Afghanistan. Pakistan time and again has rejected such assertions insisting it has no favourites in Afghanistan. To substantiate its side of the story, recently a US bipartisan congressional delegation was also taken to the tribal areas. Yet, those efforts seem to be insufficient to get US acknowledgement.
Understandably, Pakistan does maintain contacts with Afghan groups including the Haqqani Network. But Pakistani officials explain that those contacts do not mean inciting violence in Afghanistan. In fact such contacts have helped Pakistan to persuade the Taliban come to the negotiating table.
Ironically, their role has rarely been discussed and debated. While Gen McMaster was urging Pakistan to take on all groups, army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa was in Rajgal Valley, the last of two remaining pockets to be cleared from militant outfits in the tribal areas. On the ground Pakistan may be gradually winning the war against terrorism, but the same can’t be said about the battle of narratives.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2017.