Why Donald Trump’s 'immigration ban' curiously excludes Pakistan and Saudi Arabia

On 27 January, American president Donald Trump signed an executive order banning all immigrants and visa holders from seven majority-Muslim countries — namely Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — from entering the US for 90 days. He positioned this as a security measure to prevent terrorist attacks on American soil. The order also termed as the ‘immigration ban’ has been widely condemned by the various sections of American society as well as by many in the international community.

The peculiarity of the order lies in the fact that it targets those seven countries in which the US is militarily involved or has been previously involved in a military campaign. It is one of the reasons for the refugee influx from those countries to North America and Europe. Without going into the merits of such an order, it is also interesting to note that it excludes Pakistan and Saudi Arabia — the two countries that are the fountainhead of international jihadi terrorism. If the former provides the terrorist safe havens, the latter provides the fuel in the form of propaganda and finances.

File image of US president Donald Trump. Reuters

File image of US president Donald Trump. Reuters

If one takes a cursory look at the troubled relationship between the US and Pakistan, it is evident that Islamabad’s treachery has caused more damage to American national security and caused more American fatalities than all the seven 'blacklisted' states put together in Trump’s executive order.

Just three examples will suffice.

In 2009, seven American CIA officers and contractors, an officer of Jordan’s intelligence service, and an Afghan working for the CIA were killed in a suicide attack inside Forward Operating Base Chapman, in Khost Afghanistan. The attack had the blessings of the Pakistani ISI.

Secondly, at least in three attacks — two documented and one not in the public domain — against coalition troops in Afghanistan, Stinger shoulder-fired missiles were used by the Taliban. These were the same missiles that were provided by the US to Pakistan for counter insurgency operations as also during the fight against the Soviet Union in the late 1980s.

Thirdly, in one of the most serious bombing attempts on American soil after 11 September, 2001 — that could potentially have caused a large number of casualties, in 2010, a Pakistan-born US resident named Faisal Shahzad attempted a terrorist attack in New York City's Times Square. Shahzad had been trained at a terrorist training camp in Pakistan.

The exclusion of Pakistan from the executive order therefore, is perplexing to say the least. More so because as a presidential candidate, Trump looked like someone who would take on Pakistan, rather than entertain its shenanigans. But clearly, Pakistan seems to have more friends in Washington than one can imagine, who can withstand the transition of presidential administrations.

If Pakistan’s exclusion is baffling, Saudi Arabia’s exclusion is understandable. Looked from the narrower perspective of counter-terrorism, Riyadh clearly seems to have crossed all the ‘red limits’ of Washington. The country remains the hotbed of the extremist Wahhabi ideology, which first powered the Al-Qaeda and now the Islamic State or Daesh. Adding to the cauldron is the vast religious charity network operating in mosques across the country. It is from this network that millions of Dinars are siphoned off to terrorist financing through the ever-resilient Hawala network. Study after study has pointed out the Saudi authority’s complicity in sanctioning these activities. Yet, Riyadh is let off the hook and has been treated with kid gloves by successive American presidents.

The reason is not difficult to fathom. Saudi Arabia remains an important anchor for the US’ geopolitical ambitions in West Asia. In the heydays of Iran’s pariah status, the US was happy to promote the Saudi-Iran rivalry as something akin to the Sunni-Shia schism in Islam. That is why even as the so-called Arab Spring was engulfing some West Asian and North African regimes and scaring the ‘brittle monarchies’ in the Persian Gulf, Riyadh was sitting comfortably despite falling oil prices, dwindling jobs and growing discontent. It knew very well that it had Washington's blessings.

Another important factor to remember is that Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest arms importer. Between 2008 and 2015, it bought weapons worth $93.5 billion — most of which was from the US. Overseas sales like these enable the American military industrial complex to create more jobs domestically. Trump, with his commitment to ‘Make America Great Again’ and the promise of creating more jobs is unlikely to disturb the status quo.

But Islamabad should not take comfort from the fact that it is not part of Trump’s ‘immigration ban’.

There are already indications that the Trump administration may be reconsidering its decision on Pakistan. Speaking to media, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus suggested that Pakistan could be included in the list. Pakistani politician Imran Khan seems to agree with the suggestion.

In time, we'll know how successful this measure by the Trump administration will be. But one thing is for sure, unless Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are put on that list, Trump's sincerity in fighting terrorism will be doubted.

Updated Date: Jan 31, 2017 08:05 AM

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