A day after Pakistani security forces rescued an American-Canadian family from the clutches of the Haqqani terror network, US President Donald Trump said he has started to develop a much better relationship with Pakistan. South Block sources, however, remain unfazed by the US President’s comments, saying this is the outcome of a familiar pattern, with Pakistan trying to demonstrate “good behaviour” and US being made to believe that Islamabad is serious in its fight against terror.
Officials in New Delhi, who follow Trump’s comments closely, are keen to see the follow-up actions of the US President. This could form part of the discussions between Indian officials and leaders when US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visits India in the last week of October.
“Starting to develop a much better relationship with Pakistan and its leaders. I want to thank them for their cooperation on many fronts,” Trump tweeted early Saturday. Later, he said, “Yesterday, things happened with Pakistan. I have openly said Pakistan took tremendous advantage of our country for many years, but we’re starting to have a real relationship with Pakistan, and they’re to respect us as a nation again, and so are other nations.”
“They are starting to respect the United States of America again,” he said and thanked the leaders of Pakistan for “what they’ve been doing”. He said that “in this administration, we will call evil by its name”.
This is a turnaround of sorts, as Trump had criticised Pakistan for its continued support to terror groups and warned Islamabad of consequences while announcing his Afghan and South Asia policy in August. The President’s tweet and subsequent comments appear to be a reflection of his gratitude for ending the kidnapping ordeal of American nationals.
US citizen Caitlan Coleman and her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle, along with their three children, were rescued from the Haqqanis Thursday after an operation by Pakistani security forces based on intelligence from US authorities. They were kidnapped in 2012 in Afghanistan while on a backpacking trip. Their three children were born while they were being held hostage.
There was no official word from the Ministry of External Affairs on Trump’s comments but South Block sources told The Sunday Express that this reflected the “very transactional” nature of President Trump. “Time and again, Pakistan has done it and taken some small steps to deflect pressure,” the source, who has sat in multiple meetings with current and past US administration officials, said.
“This tweet does not mean that everything is hunky dory with American ties with Pakistan… but it shows that there is a lot of give-and-take in their relationship. We have to take that into account before coming to any conclusion.”
Source said, from Delhi’s perspective, it is important that the Trump administration follows through its intent, as reflected during the US President’s speech on South Asia strategy. Officials in New Delhi have always maintained that what needs to be seen is the follow-up action against Pakistan-based terror groups by the Trump administration. “Early signs like listing Hizbul Mujahideen and Syed Salahuddin have been quite encouraging. It needs to be seen whether the US government keeps the heat on,” the Indian official said.
When his views were sought, former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal told The Indian Express, “I hope the US administration will not be conned by the Pakistan government by such small, limited and piece-meal measures… the US, one only hopes, has learnt some lessons from the past, when they have done similar operations (like the rescue of abducted American couple).”
This rescue mission, Kanwal said, also plays well with Trump’s domestic constituency and earns him some points on that account, by saving some American lives. “Pakistanis have acted true to their form to give the impression about their seriousness,” he said.
US Vice President Mike Pence has also praised Pakistan in helping the US secure the release its citizens. Pence’s comments on Pakistan came as he listed some of the key achievements of the Trump administration on the international stage. “The President is achieving real results on the international stage, as well,” he said.
“Just this week, Pakistan took an important step to answer the President’s call to do more in the fight against terrorism, as they helped secure the release of an American family that had been held hostage for more than five years,” the Vice-President said.
The Haqqani network has carried out a number of kidnappings and attacks against US interests in Afghanistan. The group is also blamed for several deadly attacks against Indian interests in Afghanistan, including the 2008 bombing of the Indian mission in Kabul that killed 58 people.