By Manzoor Ahmed
There are fears in the Pakistani establishment on the accession of Donald Trump as the United States’ 45th President. His anti-Muslim bias is well-known and so is his abhorrence to terrorism. Although past Republican regimes have favoured Pakistan, its policy analysts are keeping their fingers crossed, given the most unusual man taking over the American presidency.
Much as it abhors the demands of “do more against militancy” coming from Washington, and despite a sharp anti-American bias among the Pakistani middle classes, everyone is looking to the US for money for development and in the name of fighting militancy. America looms large on Pakistan’s political, security and diplomatic horizon. For an impoverished Pakistan, even economic relief comes from the US, not from Saudi Arabia and not from “all weather friend” China which does
not believe in charity.
Trepidations about Trump have risen after Prime Minister Nawaz Sbarif’s telephone diplomacy boomeranged. Nawaz called Trump and the latter responded. But foolishly, Islamabad officially made public not just what Nawaz told Trump, but also what Trump said in response. The Trump transition team is livid at this diplomatic faux pas and Dr Fatemi, No.2 Pak foreign policy establishment, could not meet anybody worthwhile in that team during a long stay in Washington.
Pakistan is furtive as the US and India are perceived as getting close. Washington has for long pursued a South Asia policy that deals with India and Pakistan separately. An emerging Indian economy is more attractive to the American investors, and so to the policy makers. On the contrary, Pakistan has a very bad reputation. Many Pakistanis and Pakistani-Americans have been found involved in promoting money laundering for militancy and actual acts of militancy on the American soil.
Pakistan is anxious also because the outgoing Obama administration could not achieve its goals in Afghanistan, but how Trump will deal with this Obama legacy that could only soften, but not salvage the Bush legacy. Obama carried out a victory-less withdrawal, but without resolving anything in Afghanistan. The Americans are unhappy at the way China has hijacked the initiative on Afghanistan. Given his anti-China stance, Trump is expected to take a tough line on China and whatever China does in South and Southeast Asia.
The Indo-US strategic partnership has been a source of constant tension in Pak-US ties in recent years. Central to American approach has been its hands-off approach on contentious Pak-India issues. This is all the more so when it comes to the Kashmir dispute that the world community as awhole is by and large tired of.
While there’s no definitive answer to how Trump administration would deal with Pakistan, Islamabad is hoping that it would not be a repeat of close to two decades of being treated as “a bad boy” by successive American regimes from the second term of Bill Clinton, when Nawaz was virtually ordered to end the military incursion in Kargil, to eight years of Bush Jr. who gifted rival India the civil-nuclear deal to the exclusion of Pakistan. The Obama era had also seen growing Indo-US partnership to the chagrin of Islamabad.
Obama began by promising a ‘regional’ approach to South Asia during the 2008 campaign. He had faultily reasoned that Pak-India tensions were preventing a solution to the Afghan imbroglio. He began by seeking improvement in Pak-India ties, but realised the futility and the wrong connect it had with Afghanistan.
Pakistan has sought to thumb the nose at the US after China moved in with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Obama was none too happy, but given the American interest in keeping China away from the Gulf region, Trump may adopt a line that would in effect seek to punish Pakistan for playing host to China in that region.
When it comes to India-Pakistan ties, it is clear that the Washington policy establishment is even more solidly committed to opposing US involvement in trying to nudge India and Pakistan to talk and improve ties. Indeed, the situation is more hostile, save a few diplomatic postures on this that it was when Obama began eight years ago. A strong perception is that under Trump Washington would not be too keen to ask New Delhi and Islamabad to play the peace pipe.
Not likely to get excited about close Sino-Pak ties, Trump’s position on China could complicate things for South Asia, especially Pakistan. If Sino-US competition accentuates, India will be even more important as a counterweight to Beijing. India’s leverage over the US could thusincrease. Delhi could demand that Washington de-emphasise Pak-India ties and instead, continue to emphasise on Pakistan taking action to curb its militant outfits.
Pakistan fears that the “do more” demand from Washington would get louder under Trump, seeking curbs on the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network. This is one area where Trump would follow, and even sharpen, the approach that Obama had adopted. Pakistan’s resistance to this is bound to add to the US-Pak tensions. This is advantage India.
The worst aspect of Pakistan’s ties with the Trump administration, as was the case with Bush and Obama administrations, is that Pakistan continues to be its own enemy. As the Pak-born US-based analyst Moeed Yusuf offers his analysis:
“The Pakistani state’s policies on anti-India militant outfits can’t win it any champions. The world cannot be expected to reach but the most sceptical conclusion when it sees leaders of anti-India outfits floating around freely and when it finds the Pakistani state trying to avoid sincerely prosecuting those charged with committing terrorism in India”. “Perhaps nothing has aided India’s global push to isolate Pakistan more than the latter’s mishandling of the Mumbai trials,” says Yusuf.
He joins the perennial Pakistani lament that the US does not lean on India to talk the Kashmir issue. There is no prospect of the resolution coming as a result of an American intervention, something that Pakistan, especially the Nawaz Sharif Government, has consistently peddled as some kind of a quid pro quo for better behaviour on the militancy front.
Pakistan is hoping that India will resist, or fail to deliver, in the US demand for being a counterweight to China in Asia, something that could prompt the US to warm up its ties with China, to the benefit of Islamabad. The age-old theory of nurturing the enemy’s enemy as a friend persists in Pakistani mind.
Pakistan is also hoping, as Yusuf puts it, Prime Minister Modi, who has been presenting the US stance on his efforts to isolate Pakistan as a litmus test of US sincerity to Indo-US ties, might overplays his hand, forcing Washington to find more space to invest in trying to improve Pak-India ties.
Yusuf makes a significant point in conclusion. “… no one is likely to go to bat for Pakistan in Washington unless there is a discernible change in Islamabad’s approach towards anti-India and anti-Afghan militancy. An absence of cross-border attacks with links to militant presence in Pakistan and a more visibly stringent approach towards these actors are necessary prerequisites for any US president to consider an out-of-the-box approach to Pakistan’s liking.”