On New Year’s morning 2018, US President Donald 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 and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” The ultimatum was long overdue.
Nevertheless, Trump’s tweet caught virtually everyone by surprise – from State Department diplomats in Foggy Bottom to the generals and politicians in Islamabad – and sparked a true and soul-searching debate about the relationship between America and what many believe to be a failed state that just happens to have a population of 193 million people, and nuclear weapons.
For the US, Pakistan has long been seen as a nation of strategic opportunity.
Administrations since Eisenhower have curried favor with the strongmen and generals in charge of Pakistan to hem in Soviet ambitions in southwest Asia. Even its disastrous wars against US ally India didn’t stall support for Pakistan. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, Pakistan became a front-line state in the Cold War. The country’s luck was that it happened to sit on one of the most volatile and strategic fault lines in the world.
Pakistan was never a stable Western ally, though. For Israel, Islamic Pakistan has remained a difficult and menacing threat, requiring cautious monitoring while we attempt to maintain our distance. Its government has frequently expressed support for the Palestinians while publicly criticizing Israel as an occupier.
On one recent occasion Pakistan’s defense minister warned Israel that Islamabad possessed a nuclear bomb, in a reckless response to a fake news story being circulated about Israel’s capabilities.
To this day, Pakistani travel documents bear the inscription: “This passport is valid for all countries of the world except Israel.”
The nuclear issue, of course, added layers of complexity – and raw nerves – to the West’s relationship with Pakistan. The country became a nuclear power in 1998 and today, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Stimson Center, the country operates four nuclear reactors that are capable of producing up to 20 nuclear warheads a year; Pakistan, the report contends, has the potential to become the world’s third largest nuclear power, second only to the US and Russia.
It is also feared that Pakistan provides technology, assistance and encouragement to other wannabe nuclear powers, such as the rogue regimes in Iran and North Korea.
Perhaps the greatest threat to continued American support of Pakistan, and perhaps its greatest lifeline, was the notion that the country was an irreplaceable ally in the war on terrorism. Despite Pakistani support for anti-Soviet “holy warriors,” including Arabs lead by Osama bin-Laden, this guaranteed the country relevance and streams of American aid money. However, Pakistan never served anyone’s interest other than its own, let alone that of the US.
The Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, Pakistan’s all-powerful espionage service, diabolically nurtured Islamic militancy in its tribal areas and supported the anti-Soviet Mujahideen; the ISI lent tacit support to the nascent al-Qaida, and a mysterious department within Pakistan’s intelligence service, known as Directorate S, openly supported the Taliban even as the bin-Laden’s 9/11 plot was being planned. All this was done as a hedge against India, but the implications for global security were profound. It’s safe to say that neither the Taliban nor al-Qaida would have existed without some tacit assistance from Pakistan.
After 9/11, Pakistan positioned itself as an American ally in the war on terrorism, but still continued its support for anti-Western Islamic militants. It must be remembered that Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City, and his uncle Khaled Sheikh Mohammed were seized in Pakistan. Osama bin-Laden was killed while hiding in plain sight in a Pakistani military town, where he had been for years.
Jewish-American journalist Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and murdered by Islamic terrorists in Karachi, by a group some claim had ties to Pakistani intelligence.
As the novelist Salman Rushdie once wrote, “[Pakistan] is trying to play both ends against the middle – to look like the friend of the revolutionaries on the one hand and a friend of the West in the fight against terrorism. It can’t be both things.”
But Pakistan has been something far more insidious. While receiving $25 billion in the years leading up to the 2011 killing of bin-Laden, Pakistan has been an aggressive and generous state sponsor of terrorism.
Pakistan and the ISI still maintain long-standing support for the Taliban and the murderous Haqqani Network. And, of course, the ISI is the principal benefactor of the Lashkar e Tayyba, or LeT. The LeT is believed to have been formed in 1990 in Afghanistan’s Kunar province with the stated goal of overthrowing Indian rule over the contested Kashmir region.
Until the Mumbai attack, the LeT was best known for the bombing of Mumbai train stations in July 2006, attacks that killed 200 people. In November 2008 10 seaborne LeT terrorists attacked multiple targets in Mumbai, including the train station, hotels and cafés, and held much of the city hostage for three days.
By the time the gunfire and battles with emergency forces were over, 166 people were dead. One of the terrorist targets in the attack was the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish Center at Nariman House in Colaba, seized by two gunmen. Before the building could be stormed, the terrorists killed Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his pregnant wife, Rivka, along with four other Jewish hostages, in cold blood.
The Mumbai attack was a watershed moment in the war on terrorism – an Indian version of 9/11 or for Israel, the Netanya Passover Massacre. But even after the attack, Pakistan’s support for the LeT never wavered, even though India threatened unprecedented military retaliation, risking full-scale war – again – on the Indian subcontinent. The LeT still operates its major training facilities in Pakistan.
LeT leader Hafiz Saeed is provided shelter and protection by the ISI.
Many of the deadly attacks against US and coalition forces in Afghanistan – a conflict now in its seventeenth year – originate in Pakistan.
Pakistani banks still move funds for the LeT.
The US and Pakistan have been on a collision course for years, and finally, the clash is one of principle.
A superpower’s foreign policy must be forged on the basis of morality and righteousness. The US should not provide welfare to a nation that openly supports the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent people. President Trump’s declaration that the US will withhold $255 million in military aid to Pakistan is a bold and long-needed step in the right direction of using financial leverage – not threats of conflict – to end Pakistan’s state sponsorship of terrorist groups.
As Israel learned during the Second Intifada and in its conflict with Hezbollah, terrorism cannot survive without money, and neither should the rogue regimes that support terrorist groups.The author is the president of Shurat HaDin, a Tel Aviv based law center that has represented terrorism victims worldwide. She is the co-author of The National and Los Angeles Times bestselling Harpoon: Inside the Covert War Against Terrorism’s Money Masters, published by Hachette in November 2017. Darshan-Leitner will be a featured speaker at the Stand With Us Student Conference in Los Angeles on January 19-22, 2018