Way ahead for US-Pak relations

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Shahid M Amin

WITH Donald Trump having been elected as the new US-President, which way US-Pakistan relations are heading? He said some nasty things against the Muslims during the Presidential campaign. In 2015, after terrorist incidents in Paris and San Bernardino, Trump called for “a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering US until our country’s representatives can figure out what hell is going on.” Terrorism in San Bernardino involved persons of Pakistani descent. Later, Trump toned down, saying that the ban would be temporary and last until “we are in a position to properly screen these people coming into our country.” There is rising Islamophobia in US and Muslims are being associated with terrorism. Trump has capitalised on it by his anti-Muslim statements and, at one time, called for surveillance of mosques.
However, the reverse is suggested by Trump’s appointment of General Michael Flynn as his national security adviser. Flynn’s views on Islam are no secret, e.g. he asserted: “Islam is a political ideology … it definitely hides behind this notion of it being a religion.” In another comment about Islam, Flynn said: “It’s like a malignant cancer.” In a tweet on February 27, 2016, which displayed the emblem of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani group, Flynn noted: “Fear of Muslims is rational.” Flynn served in Afghanistan as well as Iraq during the US military occupation.
Holding intelligence posts, he became convinced that Islamic extremism posed a grave threat. In his recent book “How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies”, he said that “without a proper sense of urgency, we will eventually be defeated, dominated, and very likely destroyed” by Muslim militants. Flynn asserts that Muslims have “banned the search for truth because they believe that the Quran, Islam’s holy book, is infallible.” Flynn strongly criticized Obama’s opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad which he said had benefitted Islamic extremists like IS and Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda offshoot. With a person like Flynn holding a key position in Trump administration, the anti-Muslim bias is manifest.
Americans of Indian origin number nearly four million or 1.25% of US population, of which only 10% are Muslims. Many of them campaigned and voted for Trump during the Presidential election. The common ground seemed to be anti-Muslim terrorism sentiment and Trump’s anti-China rhetoric. He addressed a big Hindu-American rally and declared he was a “big, big fan of India”. He described India as a “great friend” of US in the fight against “radical Islamic terrorism.” He promised to strengthen diplomatic and military ties with India, condemned terrorist attacks on Mumbai and on Indian parliament and praised Prime Minister Modi. He said India and USA were “natural allies” and he wanted to become “best friends”. He added: “There won’t be any relationship more important to us.” Trump has made past investments in India in Mumbai, Pune and Gurgaon and also visited India in connection with his real estate business.
However, notice should also be taken of some other comments made by Trump. Last month, in an interview to “Hindustan Times”, Trump said that if elected President, he would be willing to play a mediatory role in addressing the “very, very hot tinderbox” of Kashmir between India and Pakistan. “If it was necessary, I would do that. If we could get India and Pakistan getting along, I would be honoured to do that. That would be a tremendous achievement. I think if they wanted me to, I would love to be the mediator or arbitrator.” This statement has been welcomed by the Pakistan Foreign Office. It is also well known that India is opposed to any kind of mediation on Kashmir. It regards Kashmir as a settled matter and an integral part of India. In its view, mediation would amount to foreign interference.
In one statement, Trump described Pakistan as “a vital problem” for the US “because they have nuclear weapons.” He expressed concern about safety of these nuclear weapons. “But Pakistan is semi-unstable. We don’t want to see total instability. It’s not that much, relatively speaking. We have a little bit of a good relationship. I think I’d try and keep it.” He questioned the Obama administration’s wisdom in giving billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan without desired results. But in one comment, he appreciated that by not giving aid to Pakistan, matters could get worse. Actually, Trump would be taking over at a time when US-Pakistan relations are already at low ebb. He would have to judge whether it is in the US interest to further worsen these relations. Pakistan has a key geostrategic location. It is an important military power with nuclear weapons and missile capability. It is the sixth most populous country with a large economy.
It has a leadership position among the fifty-plus Muslim countries. Pakistan has a special relationship with China, whose help in CPEC projects is raising Pakistan’s economic and strategic importance. Russia is also drawing closer to Pakistan. Furthermore, Pakistan has direct relevance in resolving the Afghan problem, which is a key US preoccupation. Trump has made much of threats posed by Islamist terrorism and he needs to realize that Pakistan is engaged in the largest military operation anywhere against these terrorists. There are US politicians and generals who begrudge the aid Washington is giving to Pakistan. But the coalition support fund is reimbursement of expenditure incurred by Pakistan in fighting the war against terrorists. If the US itself were militarily engaged in such a war, the expenditure would be many times greater. In any event, after assuming responsibilities as President, Trump will get lots of expert advice and will probably modify his extreme views.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the ex-Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.