Akbar Jan Marwat
TRUMP’S election to the oval office, was an upset of enormous proportions. Trump by his victory, upended all kinds of rational and conventional predictions. The reason for his surprise victory seems to be his pandering to the fear, hate and discontentment of the white working class. Now that Trump has won, and is going to take oath as the new President of United States, in a couple of months: It would be instructive to analyze some of his likely policies towards South Asia, and especially Pakistan. Pakistan must also brace itself up and have realistic expectations from Washington during Trump’s watch.
No doubt campaign rhetoric is something entirely different from how candidates behave, once they assume office. The Americans also justly, to quite an extent, take pride in their system of checks and balances, which are in place, to rein in a maverick just like Donald Trump. But after having said all that, Trump could still be a very unpredictable President. Having followed his instincts throughout the campaign, as against the more conventional and saner council of his advisors, and still winning, Trump’s confidence going into the white house must be souring sky high. To Put a straitjacket on a man like Trump, and expect him to act within the defined conventional role as expected of a US president, may be wishful thinking. Buoyed by Republican majority in both house, Trump would certainly leverage his position for achieving some of the major goals, which he not only repeatedly highlighted in his campaign but may be truly close to his heart also. Trying to bring his major agenda points into sharper focus, policy towards south Asia and Pakistan, may not be an immediate priority. But when policy on South Asia and Pakistan is indeed, revisited, according to some eminent policy analysts, three trends would be followed.
(1). In spite of any policy shifts, Trump administration like its predecessor will depend more on India as its strategic pivot to Asia, rather than Pakistan. The tilt towards India on NSG will also continue. The Hindu Diaspora, has made considerable inroads into the Republican Party and actively supported his campaign. Pakistani Americans on the other hand were solidly behind Clinton. BJP’s Chauvinistic nationalism is also more akin with Trumps brand of confrontational conservatism
(2). While Taliban advances in Afghanistan and the instability of the Afghan government, will not allow Trump administration to totally break with Pakistan: but the American administration may lay the blame of its failure in Afghanistan more equivocally at Pakistan’s door. This action may lead the US congress to push for punitive sanctions against Pakistan.
(3). Pak – US relations in the Short term may further cool down. The US would be more interested in protecting the homeland and Afghanistan. Policy of asking Pakistan to do more against Hqqani and Afghan Taliban should be expected. Similarly Pakistan’s nuclear weapons would be in greater focus.
Trump has mostly mentioned Pakistan in the context of nuclear weapons. He has even suggested keeping 10,000 soldiers permanently in Afghanistan, to keep an eye on our nuclear weapons. A realistic fear for the region, nay the whole world, could be the start of a nuclear race in our neighbourhood. If Trump scuttles the US led nuclear agreement with Iran, Iran will certainly – for its preservation – start the process of enriching uranium, could force the Saudis to start working for a nuclear weapon of its own. Trumps offer of leading negotiations on Kashmir between Pakistan and India, must be taken with a pinch of salt. We know how difficult it has been to get India to agree on third party negotiations. Even if in the unlikely event that Trump led negotiations were to take place: Trumps sympathies would clearly be with India and not Pakistan.
During Trump’s Presidency, Pakistan can forget about getting F-16’s. As Senator Bob Corker, Chairman of the Senate Foreign relations Committee, who was instrumental in blocking the F-16 deal, is expected to be an important member of the Trump administration. No doubt comfort can be taken in the fact, that usually there is a lot of continuity to foreign policy in Washington. The bureaucrats at the State and defence departments usually follow continuity in Policy. This, however, cannot be a source of great comfort for Pakistan, as the existing US policy towards Pakistan is already based on inequity and hypocrisy. The unkindest of cuts, would be, if the US under trump declares Pakistani state a supporter of terrorism. If this were to happen, it would be disastrous not only for Pakistan but for the entire region. This move will have detrimental effects for the US also.
The most immediate danger to Pakistan, may be the one posed to Pakistani students and workers based in US. Trump may not carry out the campaign promise of a total ban on Muslims, but conditions for Muslims already living in the US, can be made so difficult, that a ban may no longer be required. Naked racism and Xenophobia has become public after trumps victory. This combined with official harassment, would be enough to drive any one out. The best that can, perhaps, be hoped by Pakistan’s is that Trump only wants to enjoy the perks of the Presidential office and delegates the responsibilities of the daily grind of office work to his team. As a matter of fact, when he was interviewing candidates for vice president, they were told that they would be given substantial responsibilities both in the domestic and foreign spheres.
Trump may also not take kindly to Pakistan being a key ally of China. The US will not lock out Pakistan completely, but safeguarding Pakistan’s interests would need constant vigilance and deft diplomacy and focus by Pakistani authorities. Agency and sharp focus, has to be applied to Pakistan’s foreign policy to navigate the new complex power equation in the white house, Pakistan has to tread carefully, as the existing complacence will simply not do.
—The writer is author, citizen journalist and entrepreneur based in Islamabad.