August 31, 2017 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1339

After Trump's Afghanistan Speech, Pakistani Leaders Declare: 'Pakistan Will Become The Graveyard Of U.S. Soldiers'; 'U.S. Must Not Think Of The Nuclear Pakistan As Its Colony'

August 31, 2017 | By Tufail Ahmad*
Afghanistan, Pakistan | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1339

Front page headline in Roznama Dunya: "America threatens attacks in Pakistan"


This paper reviews Pakistani leaders' reactions to the U.S. President Donald Trump's Afghanistan policy speech. On August 21, 2017, Trump delivered a speech outlining the new U.S. strategy on Afghanistan and South Asia. He noted that "hard-won gains" in Iraq "slipped back into the hands of terrorist enemies" in 2011 because "America hastily and mistakenly withdrew [its troops from Iraq]."[1] Reversing former president Barack Obama's strategy, which centered on exit dates, Trump outlined "a shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions" for U.S. troops to exit war zones because it was "counterproductive… to announce in advance the dates we intend to begin, or end, military options."[2]

Trump also criticized Pakistan's continuing role in supporting jihadi groups in Afghanistan. He stated: "Today, 20 U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan – the highest concentration in any region anywhere in the world. For its part, Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror. The threat is worse because Pakistan and India are two nuclear-armed states whose tense relations threaten to spiral into conflict."[3]

The U.S. president said: "America will continue its support for the Afghan government and the Afghan military as they confront the Taliban." He added: "The next pillar of our new strategy is to change the approach and how to deal with Pakistan. We can no longer be silent about Pakistan's safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond. Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan.  It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists."[4]

President Trump reminded the Americans and the world that Pakistan aids terrorists who kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, stating: "Pakistan has also sheltered the same organizations that try every single day to kill our people. We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change, and that will change immediately. No partnership can survive a country’s harboring of militants and terrorists who target U.S. service members and officials."[5]

Pakistan's political and religious leaders, who are used to seeing transitions of leaders in the White House and sometimes just wait for an administration to give way to another, gave strong reactions to the Trump speech. It should be noted that acts of terrorism in Pakistan and India's Jammu and Kashmir state are rooted in Pakistan, which is seen to be supporting jihadi organizations active in both the countries. This review of Pakistani religious and political leaders' reactions is limited to their comments appearing in the Urdu media in Pakistan.

Leaders of Difa-e-Pakistan Council address the press in Islamabad (image: Roznama Ummat).

The Reactions of Islamists

There were immediate reactions in Pakistan to President Trump's speech. On August 22, an emergency meeting of the Ulema Council of Pakistan – an organization of Islamic scholars – was held to assess the situation emerging from the new U.S. policy. The meeting was chaired by Maulana Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi and attended by Islamic scholars such as Maulana Aslam Qadri of Pakistan Shariat Council, Maulana Ghulamullah Khan of Jamiat Ulema-e-Ahle Hadees, Maulana Asim Makhdoom of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-S), Allama Tahirul Hasan of the International Muttahida Ulema Council, Maulana Ayub Qadri of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan, Maulana Ayub Safdar of Pakistan Ulema Council, Mufti Zia Madani of Muttahida Ulema Council, and others.[6]

According to a report, the religious leaders urged the Pakistani government to talk to the U.S. on equal terms and reject the U.S.'s aggressive polices.[7] They said: "The entire nation will stand by the government and armed forces of Pakistan against the U.S.'s aggressive objectives. The government must not come under the U.S. blackmailing. The Pakistani nation considers the U.S. invitation to India to play a role in Afghanistan as a conspiracy against [Pakistan's] national security and stability, and rejects India's collaboration with America in Afghanistan."[8] The religious leaders also accused Afghan intelligence and India's external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), of involvement in terror attacks inside Pakistan.[9]

Difa-e-Pakistan Council (Defense of Pakistan Council, DPC), which enjoys the support of Pakistani military intelligence, is a conglomerate of Pakistan-based jihadi networks and religious organizations. Some politicians are also its members. A key member of the council is Jamaatud Dawa, which functions as the charity arm of the jihadi organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) founded by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. In 2012, the U.S. announced a reward of $10 million for information leading to the prosecution of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed.[10]

A press conference was organized by the Difa-e-Pakistan Council in Islamabad to articulate the position of these groups on the Trump speech. The joint press conference was addressed by Maulana Samiul Haq, Professor Abdur Rahman Makki, Ejazul Haq, Syed Zafar Ali Shah, Maulana Fazlur Rahman Khalil, Ziaullah Shah Bukhari, Maulana Amir Hamza, Ajmal Baloch, Tahir Rasheed Tanoli, and Amir Shahzad, among others.[11] According to a report, the DPC leaders said: "U.S. President Trump's threats are a declaration of war and an attack on the security and autonomy of the dear nation Pakistan. The U.S. must not think of the nuclear Pakistan as its colony."[12]

"Instead of adopting pragmatism, the government should give a mouth-breaking response to the insulting attitude [of the U.S. toward Pakistan]. The announcement of new policy regarding South Asia by the U.S. is a dangerous conspiracy to instigate fire in the region," the DPC leaders said, adding: "The entire nation is with the armed forces of Pakistan to fight against any aggression, and no effort will be left to offer any sacrifice."[13]

The Reactions Of Politicians

Pakistan's political and military leadership also reacted immediately to President Trump's speech. Roznama Dunya carried a news story on its front page, the headline of which read: "America threatens attacks in Pakistan."[14] On August 22, less than a day after the speech, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi held a cabinet meeting, which was briefed by Foreign Minister Khwaja Muhammad Asif.[15] It was decided to take friendly nations into confidence regarding the new U.S. strategy on Afghanistan, and Abbasi paid a visit to Saudi Arabia the next day, August 23.[16]

On August 24, Pakistan held a five-hour meeting of the National Security Committee to discuss the implications of Trump's speech. The meeting was chaired by prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and attended by army chief Gen. Qamar Bajwa, navy chief Adm. Muhammad Zakaullah, air force chief Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman, Inter-Services Intelligence chief Lt.-Gen. Naveed Mukhtar, foreign minister Khawaja Asif, Minister for Defence Khurram Dastgir, Minister for Interior Ahsan Iqbal, National Security Advisor Lt.-Gen. Nasser Janjua, Minister of Finance Ishaq Dar, and the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen. Zubair Mahmood Hayat.

The meeting was also briefed by Prime Minister Abbasi about his visit to Saudi Arabia and his discussions with Saudi leaders on Trump's speech, and by Foreign Secretary Tahmina Janjua regarding her visit to China where she discussed the Trump speech, among other issues.[17] The meeting reiterated Pakistan's known positions on Afghanistan and India.[18] According to a report, the meeting declared, among other things: "The Afghan war cannot be fought in Pakistan."[19]

Prime Minister Abbasi chairs a meeting of the National Security Committee.

Anti-U.S. resolutions were also introduced in the legislative assemblies of Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. The resolution introduced by legislator Nabeela Hakim Ali in Punjab accused Trump of "insulting Pakistan's sacrifices [in the war against terror] at the behest of India."[20] According to a report, a special committee of the senate reviewed the Pakistan-U.S. tensions in view of the Trump speech and discussed proposals: to postpone the foreign minister's upcoming tour of the U.S, to lodge a strong protest with the U.S. ambassador, to stop supplies via Pakistan for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, and among others, to review Pakistan-U.S. ties.[21]

Speaking in the Senate of Pakistan regarding the new U.S. strategy, Senator Hafiz Hamdullah said: "If America's agenda is peace, why did it remove the Taliban government [from Afghanistan after 9/11 attacks]? The U.S. has failed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is now threatening Pakistan. The United States wants to sell weapons by causing instability in the world."[22] According to another report, Hafiz Hamdullah said: "The biggest terrorist is sitting in the White House. Wherever America went, it created conflict. America is not giving threats; rather its agenda itself is war. Using Afghanistan's shoulder to fire guns, it will destabilize South Asia."[23]

Senator Sirajul Haq, also the emir of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan, said: "The Jews and Christians want [the Islamic nations like Pakistan] to be servants under them. They won't be happy without it."[24] Senator Ghaus Bakhsh Niazi condemned the U.S.'s "double-standards" and accused it of "throwing the waste on Pakistan to hide its failure [in Afghanistan]."[25] Rehman Malik, senator  and former interior minister, accused the U.S. of propping up Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS): "Who propped up Al-Qaeda and ISIS? It was a wrong policy [for Pakistan] to become part of the war on terror."[26] Senator Salim Zia accused the U.S. of being aggrieved by the growing China-Pakistan economic cooperation and stated: "The U.S. president should bear in mind that Pakistan is a responsible country."[27] Senator Mohsin Leghari warned: "Without Pakistan, the U.S. cannot achieve success in Afghanistan."[28]

Mian Raza Rabbani, chairman of the senate, said: "America must not think of Pakistan as Vietnam and Cambodia. If it made a mistake, then Pakistan will become the graveyard of U.S. soldiers."[29] Senator Shahi Syed of the Awami National Party (ANP), accused Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and President Trump of throwing the world into fire, stating: "Trump is America's madman and Modi is India's madman. Both want to push the world into fire."[30] Hakeem Muhammad Ibrahim Qasmi, a former member of the legislative assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said: "Time has come to give a mouth-breaking response to America."[31]

In his speech, Trump had stated the following about India's role in Afghanistan: "Another critical part of the South Asia strategy for America is to further develop its strategic partnership with India -- the world’s largest democracy and a key security and economic partner of the United States. We appreciate India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan, but India makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States, and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development."[32] To this, a Roznama Express editorial responded: "Trump's statement stresses the point that the U.S. wants to promote India's role in Afghanistan by ending Pakistan's role."[33]

* Tufail Ahmad is Senior Fellow for the MEMRI Islamism and Counter-Radicalization Initiative.



[1] (U.S.), August 21, 2017.

[2] (U.S.), August 21, 2017.

[3] (U.S.), August 21, 2017.

[4] (U.S.), August 21, 2017.

[5] (U.S.), August 21, 2017.

[6] Roznama Express (Pakistan), August 23, 2017.

[7] Roznama Express (Pakistan), August 23, 2017.

[8] Roznama Express (Pakistan), August 23, 2017.

[9] Roznama Express (Pakistan), August 23, 2017.

[10] (India), April 3, 2012.

[11] Roznama Express (Pakistan), August 24, 2017.

[12] Roznama Express (Pakistan), August 24, 2017.

[13] Roznama Express (Pakistan), August 24, 2017.

[14] Roznama Dunya (Pakistan), August 23, 2017.

[15] Roznama Express (Pakistan), August 23, 2017.

[16] Roznama Express (Pakistan), August 23, 2017.

[17] Roznama Dunya (Pakistan), August 25, 2017.

[18] Roznama Dunya (Pakistan), August 25, 2017.

[19] Roznama Express (Pakistan), August 25, 2017.

[20] Roznama Dunya (Pakistan), August 25, 2017.

[21] Roznama Dunya (Pakistan), August 25, 2017.

[22] Roznama Dunya (Pakistan), August 25, 2017.

[23] Roznama Express (Pakistan), August 25, 2017.

[24] Roznama Express (Pakistan), August 25, 2017.

[25] Roznama Dunya (Pakistan), August 25, 2017.

[26] Roznama Express (Pakistan), August 25, 2017.

[27] Roznama Dunya (Pakistan), August 25, 2017.

[28] Roznama Dunya (Pakistan), August 25, 2017.

[29] Roznama Express (Pakistan), August 25, 2017.

[30] Roznama Express (Pakistan), August 23, 2017.

[31] Roznama Express (Pakistan), August 27, 2017.

[32] Roznama Express (Pakistan), August 25, 2017.

[33] Roznama Express (Pakistan), August 25, 2017.

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