Angry Pakistanis lash out after US condemnation on 'housing' militants

Islamabad residents at a newspaper stall reading about US President Donald Trump's comments about Pakistan on Aug 23, 2017.
Islamabad residents at a newspaper stall reading about US President Donald Trump's comments about Pakistan on Aug 23, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Angry and offended Pakistanis fired back on Wednesday (Aug 23) against Mr Donald Trump's accusations that their country harbours militants, highlighting the heavy toll they have paid fighting extremism and slamming his embrace of archrival India.

The US President unleashed blistering criticism of Pakistan this week as he unveiled his new Afghanistan policy which paves the way for the indefinite deployment of more troops to the war-weary country.

Mr Trump lashed out at US ally Pakistan, accusing the country of playing a double game as it accepted American aid but gave safe haven to insurgents who kill Afghan and Nato troops.

"We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting," Mr Trump said.

Pakistan, which sees nuclear-armed India as an existential threat but cannot defeat its much larger neighbour on the battlefield, has instead crafted a strategy of supporting militant proxies - including the Afghan Taleban.

Such groups tie down India in the contested Himalayan region of Kashmir and, in Afghanistan, help prevent the rise of an Indian-backed government.

Pakistani civilians have little power over regional strategy but have lost homes and loved ones to militant violence that has killed thousands in their own country since 2007. Mr Trump's remarks provoked hurt and outrage among many.

"We have been fighting YOUR war for a decade now, we have lost numerous lives of civilians, our jawans, even our schoolgoing children as well," wrote Mr Farhan Bashir on Facebook.

"Today you are saying this to cover up your failures in Afghanistan?"

Some residents in the capital Islamabad said their country was being treated as a scapegoat after being dragged into the conflict following the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

"All the worst things that we are facing is only because (we are) supporting the US in Afghanistan," said Mr Ameer Hamza.

"How could a country shelter terrorists which itself is under the grip of terrorism?"

In Pakistan's north-western city of Peshawar, which has borne the brunt of vicious militant violence over the years, bank employee Suhail Ahmad said Pakistani troops and police had done their job and cleared the area of militants.

"We Pakistanis were suffering from terrorism, but now the terrorists have either been killed or fled to Afghanistan," the 24-year-old told AFP.

"The power is in US hands in Afghanistan, so why don't they go against terrorists and kill them there?"

Others suggested ditching the US alliance altogether and embracing China, which has been pouring tens of billions into infrastructure investment in Pakistan in recent years.

"They have always pressured us for doing more and more. There may be some pro-US voices but I think we should go closer to China," said Mr Sakhawat Shah, a Peshawar college student.

Editorials in leading dailies urged Mr Trump to be cautious after he called on Pakistan's archrival India to deepen its engagement in Afghanistan, a scenario the Pakistani military establishment dreads.

Pakistan is unlikely to abandon its Afghan proxies, analysts say - especially as the US tilts towards India, as Mr Trump clearly indicated in his speech.

"Like the previous administrations, the Trump administration too believes in unquestioned cooperation, ignoring Islamabad's interests completely," wrote columnist Zahid Hussain in Dawn newspaper.

"Pakistani officials contend that the Trump administration has crossed the red line by making India a part of its Afghan strategy."

Analyst Rahimullah Yousufzai told AFP: "On one side America is asking for Pakistan's support, and on the other side asking India.

"How is it possible for Pakistan to provide its support in a matter which will strengthen India's grip in Afghanistan?"

In the bustling port city of Karachi, also long plagued by militant violence, shop owners brushed aside Mr Trump's criticism.

"We need to clean up our own mess, not rely on any one," said Mr Rashid Mahmood, 40.

Others noted that Pakistanis have bigger problems than even Mr Trump or militants.

"Our daily nightmare is street robbers... we are least bothered by what America is saying," said Mr Momin Khan, a 42-year-old grocery shop owner, adding: "Trump is a liar and he is anti-Muslim."