President Trump had some harsh words for Pakistan in Monday night’s speech about the United States’ Afghanistan strategy, criticizing the country for giving “safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly spoke with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi before the speech and will meet soon with the country’s foreign minister. The public response to the speech from the Pakistani government, which has been in flux since former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was removed from office by court order last month, has been muted so far. One retired general told the Guardian that the U.S. was simply trying to shift blame for its own failures in Afghanistan onto Pakistan, and an anonymous intelligence official complained that Trump didn’t realize “Pakistan itself is the victim of terrorism.” Pakistan’s close ally China also came to its defense with foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying saying that Pakistan had made “great sacrifices” in fighting terrorism.
While it’s unusual to hear this criticism in such a high-profile speech, the sentiment isn’t exactly new. While the U.S. designates Pakistan as a “major non-NATO ally,” the country’s support for militant groups, most notably the Taliban, also frustrated Trump’s two predecessors. Pakistani leaders have heard these sentiments before, and Trump didn’t lay out any consequences if Pakistan failed to, as he put it, “demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order, and to peace.”
Leaders in Islamabad may have been more perturbed by what Trump said about India. Trump praised India as “the world’s largest democracy and a key security and economic partner of the United States” while noting merely that “in the past, Pakistan has been a valued partner.” Trump did say that India should invest more in Afghanistan in return for its favorable trade relationship with the United States, but Indian leaders can probably live with that. India’s External Affairs Ministry praised Trump for his “determination to enhance efforts to overcome the challenges faced by Afghanistan and in confronting issues of safe havens and other forms of cross-border support enjoyed by terrorists.” The statement didn’t explicitly mention Pakistan, but didn’t exactly need to.
Trump has been critical of Pakistan since as far back as 2012, tweeting, “Get it straight: Pakistan is not our friend. We’ve given them billions and billions of dollars, and what did we get? Betrayal and disrespect—and much worse.” As president-elect, though, he had an odd phone conversation with Sharif in which—at least according to the Pakistani government’s read-out—he praised the then–prime minister as a “terrific guy” and said that “Pakistanis are one of the most intelligent people.”