Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had to go through a routine security check at a US airport during a recent visit, an ‘indignity’ that has incensed the Pakistani media amid reports that the Trump administration is considering imposing visa bans and other sanctions on personals in the Pakistani government.
Washington also declared sanctions on Monday on seven Pakistani companies over suspicion they have links to the nuclear trade, signaling a further downturn in ties.
Footage aired on Pakistani TV channels over the past two days shows Abbasi picking up his bag and coat and walking out from a security check at what they said was an American airport. Abbasi was in the US last week on a private trip to visit his ailing sister but he also met vice-president Mike Pence in an unscheduled engagement at which he was bluntly told Pakistani has to do more to address concerns about its sustenance of terrorist groups.
But it was the sight of the country’s prime minister being subjected to a security check that drove Pakistani TV anchors apoplectic. “He should be humiliated for saying he went on a private visit. He is the prime minister… he has a diplomatic passport …there is no such thing as a private visit. He is representing the country… there are certain protocols when you are representing 22 crore people,” roared one talking head, saying Pakistan had been humiliated and Abbasi had brought shame on the country.
The US smackdown appeared even as Foreign Policy magazine reported that the Trump administration is ‘weighing unprecedented political penalties’ on Islamabad for harboring Afghan militants waging war on the US-backed government in Afghanistan.
“The options under consideration include revoking Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally, permanently cutting off the US military aid that was suspended two months ago, and even commanding visa bans or other sanctions on individuals in the Pakistani government deemed responsible for providing support to the militants,” the journal said.
The magazine reported that the Trump White House is now committed in an internal debate about the tempo and scale of probable punitive steps against Pakistan, echoing arguments under previous US presidents. Some officials and military officers favour a hard line with Pakistan, maintaining that years of aid and accommodation have produced little in return. But other voices in the administration worry about alienating a nuclear-armed country of 200 million people bordering China.
The appointment last week of a ardent hawk as national security advisor, John Bolton, and the nomination of another for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, it said ‘could tilt the discussion in favor of tougher measures against Islamabad.’
However, past records and Bolton’s own writing on the subject suggests he trusts in the “nuclear Pakistan is too huge and too dangerous to be permitted to fail” school, and he would rather keep buying Islamabad’s compliance with a steady dribble of aid. Pushing it too hard could well lead to it becoming “Iran or North Korea on steroids,” Bolton told Brietbart.com in August 2017.
Pakistan has taken full benefit of such a scenario to talk up its nuclear weapons and its radicals whenever convenient (at other times it assures it has full custodial control over its nukes) to milk Washington for aid.
But unlike previous administrations, Foreign Policy said, Trump’s deputies are looking at permanently cutting off the annual flow of military aid this year, which could put a strain on Pakistan’s defense budget and deprive it of coveted US military hardware.
“We are prepared to do whatever is necessary to protect US personnel and interests in the region,” it cited a senior administration official saying.
If the lack of protocol for Pakistan’s prime minister during his recent visit to the US, and the sanctions declared on Monday on seven Pakistani companies over suspicion they have links to the nuclear trade are any indication, then the screws are already being tightened.