The US decision to suspend virtually all military aid to Pakistan is something India has been pressing for a long time. The Pakistani military will suffer a body blow if the $1.66-billion tap is completely turned off.
Even with this clear victory for its consistent stand that Islamabad has been playing a double game, the Narendra Modi government has been closely watching the intemperate tango between the two mercurial leaders. The totally 'unstatesman' like the Twitter duel between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Imran Khan has been undercutting normal diplomatic channels.
Trump tweeted on November 17 after giving a vicious interview to Fox News in which he criticised Pakistan for ignoring terror activity from its land: "The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!"
Khan retorted with a series of tweets protesting his nation's innocence in the matter and claiming that his people have suffered the most from terrorism and done the most to fight it on a global scale, Dawn newspaper said. He urged the US to introspect on its own failures in Afghanistan now that endgame is well nigh.
The tweet war situation has turned out to be what Trump revels in. He tweeted using the handle @realDonaldTrump: "Of course we should have captured Osama Bin Laden long before we did. I pointed him out in my book just BEFORE the attack on the World Trade Center. President Clinton famously missed his shot. We paid Pakistan Billions of Dollars & they never told us he was living there. Fools!.."
And followed it up with another more vituperative one: "....We no longer pay Pakistan the $Billions because they would take our money and do nothing for us, Bin Laden being a prime example, Afghanistan being another. They were just one of many countries that take from the United States without giving anything in return. That's ENDING!"
With hawks like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton drawing the cards, this game is not going to end any time soon for Islamabad.
On Tuesday Pakistan Foreign Secretary Tehmima Januja summoned the US Charge d' Affaires Ambassador Paula Jones and registered a strong protest against the "unwarranted and unsubstantiated allegations made against Pakistan" by Trump, Dawn said.
"USD 1.66 billion of security assistance to Pakistan is suspended," Col Rob Manning, spokesman of the Department of Defence, told reporters in an e-mail response to questions on Tuesday, Hindustan Times reported.
According to David Sedney, who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary Defence for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia during Obama administration, the blocking of military assistance to Pakistan, which began in January, is a strong signal of American frustration, the paper added.
In January the Trump administration put Islamabad on notice regarding the alleged failure to meet its expectations with regard to action against terror outfits operating out of Pakistan. But the US is turning off the cash tap at the most inopportune time for Pakistan, considering the huge debt burden that is crushing the nation. Khan has been to Riyadh and Beijing seeking aid to tide over the situation but has managed little to show for it.
It has become clear that the country will not be able to avoid an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout that is likely to have some crushing conditions attached. Of course, the cash envelope from Riyadh and Beijing would also have come with some tough sub-notes. But the difference is that Khan can keep them confidential. Not the one from IMF and that would be politically damaging for Khan, who had been a strident critique of Pakistan's foreign aid programmes.
Changed global order
Though India has seen such blow-hot-blow-cold jig between the two nations several times earlier, the changed global order makes the present one a wholly new game. China has entrenched interests in Pakistan now with its massive investments in the Gwadar port and industrial city and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Pakistan's involvement in Chinese President Xi Jinping's much-vaunted Belt and Road Initiative is also a game-changer. Islamabad is also drifting closer to Moscow than ever before, needing extra caution on New Delhi's part.
India also needs to be cautious about what would emerge once the dust kicked up by the tweetstorm. Diplomacy is no zero-sum game and even Trump cannot ignore Pakistan's utility in talks with the Afghan Taliban.
With the Afghanistan endgame in sight, Washington would want to minimise the losses and Islamabad by its side would be an asset. Therefore, irrespective of all 288-character blows traded, Washington is unlikely to cut off Islamabad fully. The thrust and parry are at the most negotiating tactics as the US tests the waters with a new leader in position in Pakistan. That is why caution is the best counsel India can hope for at the moment.