New Delhi: Continuing the narrative of plummeting US-Pakistan ties, the Pentagon has suspended this week $1.66 billion in security assistance to Pakistan on the directive of president Donald Trump. Speaking of the decision in colourful trademark language, Trump said to reporters, “I want Pakistan to help us. We’re no longer paying $1.3 billion (actually $1.66 billion) to Pakistan. We’re paying them nothing because that’s what they’ve done to help us. Nothing.” Joining issue with Trump, Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, spoke of Pakistani “sacrifices” in the war against terror. It doesn’t seem to have moved Trump. At the same time, the latest punitive measures against Pakistan won’t have the desired results. Failure to generate funds from the United States (military and non-military), the IMF and other Western sources will compel Pakistan into closer relations with Saudi Arabia and China. China-Pakistan ties do not have as much bearing on terrorism as on the geopolitics of South Asia (read India), the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. Important as these are, they are not particularly central to American concerns about Islamism and stabilizing Afghanistan. Besides, China has Uighur separatism to contend with when dealing with Pakistan’s state policy of terrorism. The United States real problem is Saudi Arabia which is Pakistan’s genuine all-weather friend.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have been close since Pakistan’s independence in 1947 but it is a relationship of inequality. Although Pakistan has provided military support to Saudi Arabia in crisis situations (the 1979 Grand Mosque seizure, for example) and Pakistan enjoys special standing in Riyadh as the only Islamic nuclear power state, Pakistan is also held in contempt for the parlous state of its economy. Saudi Arabia has been Pakistan’s donor of last resort for years and it has most recently committed $6 billion more after an IMF bailout for Pakistan looked impossible and additional Chinese loans at high interest rates were found unacceptable. Except that the more Pakistan grows dependent on Saudi Arabia, the less it is capable of countering foreign terrorism of Pakistani groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. This link was elaborated by a London-based Pakistani historian, Farzana Shaikh, although her solution is misguided. Speaking to The Hindu newspaper, she said, “...Both the US and other countries like China have said they won’t help Pakistan with its debt repayment crisis. But that meant Imran Khan had to go and speak to Saudi Arabia. Now, Ahl-e-Hadith groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed receive support from Saudi Arabia. And it was noticed that the ban on them was lifted just about the time it promised the government a bailout....”

Bailing out Pakistan in any circumstances -- whether it is the United States in place of Saudi Arabia or China, as Farzana desires -- is to appease it. Unless Pakistan comes under sustained economic and financial pressure, it won’t end sponsorship of terrorism either in India or Afghanistan. It is not even enough that the IMF declines a bailout and Donald Trump talks tough about suspending defence aid to Pakistan. The elephant in the room is Saudi Arabia and its terror financing. Unless that is choked, neither could the United States win the Afghan war nor is India in a position to overwhelm militancy in Jammu and Kashmir. Saudi Arabia has seen fit to export terror since the 1979 Grand Mosque takeover by Saudi anti-royalists. This was at the root of the Faustian bargain with the Afghan mujahideen in which the United States happily participated while Pakistan put the state at the disposal of its anti-Soviet allies. Nine-eleven was the equivalent of Afghan chickens coming home to roost for the United States and it has since blundered in Afghanistan aided by the treachery of Pakistan. Pakistani backstabbing is scarcely new and suspension of US military aid will not bring Pakistan to its knees. The Saudis keep Pakistan from failing and it is the Saudis Donald Trump must tackle. Trump can turn a blind eye to the Saudi crown prince murdering a dissident journalist but can he afford to ignore Saudi support for a state that is, in essence, opposing the United States in Afghanistan?

The end to the United States’ troubles in Afghanistan at least partly ties with Saudi Arabia. It would still have to fight the Taliban and other anti-US elements but an early closure is likely if the Saudis turn off terror financing in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The United States should threaten the House of Saud with abandonment unless it brings Pakistan to heel. The Trump White House should insist that Saudi Arabia put on hold the bailout package till credible steps are taken by Islamabad to end terror in Afghanistan and elsewhere in South Asia. Terrorists are neither good nor bad. Terrorists are simply terrorists. Until this truth is recognized by the United States, it will continue to lose the war in Afghanistan.