Brexit shook Europe; Trump’s victory shocked the whole world. Perhaps, Trump’s 11/9 is more baffling than OBL’s 9/11. He not only bludgeoned the 24/7 US media punditry but also falsified the pre-electoral projections which termed Hillary Clinton as the favorite candidate.
After his victory, US’ friends and foes are equally worried about Tump’s future course of action. During his election campaign, he has blown hot and cold against his allies and opponents alike. For instance, he praised Russian President Putin, US’ arch rival, for fighting Islamic radicalism and criticized NATO, US’ closest ally, as a redundant organization that should be disbanded.
In Pakistan, Trump’s victory has evoked mixed responses about the possible impact of his presidency on US-Pakistan relations. Presently, Islamabad features quite low on Washington’s priority list.
Before getting to that, one thing less surprising about Trump’s victory is the consolidation of right-wing votes in the West. Traditional-realism and native-nationalism are on the upsurge in the West, while neo-liberal values and institutions are on the decline. The West, as we know it, is changing rapidly. Will the upsurge of realism and the revival of ultra-nationalism continue? The upcoming elections in France, Germany and the Netherlands will be key determinants of this trend or its reversal.
What does Trump’s victory mean for Pakistan? Will the coldness in US-Pakistan ties increase further or will they remain at their current level? More importantly, what are the benchmarks to evaluate Trump’s future policies? His election campaign rhetoric, his post-election appointments, and the inaugural-speech he is going to make in January. Probably, these factors will combine to shape his future policies.
In Washington, Trump is considered an outsider to the system. Foreign policy is not his strong area. He has no knowledge about the diplomatic complexities and the bureaucratic intricacies of foreign affairs. His election agenda focused heavily on internal policies; therefore, his immediate focus will be domestic.
Political rhetoric is one thing, the reality of running the office is quite another. After briefings from the Pentagon, the State Department, the CIA, and other key institutions, Trump’s pre-electoral rhetoric is likely to tone down. Notwithstanding his promises, in retrospect, President Obama could not shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention camp or withdraw American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. It remains to be seen how much space the US system will afford Trump to translate his election agenda into policies.
Under President Trump, the low-key US-Pakistan relations are likely to continue without facing any immediate rupture or downgrade. However, the ties will remain trouble-prone and bumpy. Since 2011, Pakistan’s importance as a key US ally has lessened following the killing of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in a US Navy Seal operation in Abbottabad. One measure of that is no visit to the US was made by the former Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani in his second extension (2011-13) while only one trip was made by the incumbent military chief General Raheel Shareef in 2015.
There is a bipartisan consensus in Washington on South Asia that is tilted in favor of India and which keeps separate and de-hyphenated engagements with Pakistan.
Notwithstanding Trump’s victory, US-Pakistan ties are already very cold and cannot sink any further. Washington and Islamabad do not look toward each other favorably. In future, Pakistan will not be very keen to depend on the US for military and economic assistance. Pakistan has already bid farewell to the IMF programme this year. Since the onset of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Beijing has replaced Washington as Islamabad’s major strategic, economic, and diplomatic partner.
The US has already left Pakistan out of the Afghan peace process by droning the former Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansoor in Balochistan and scuttling the Pakistan-initiated QCG-process. The Coalition Support Funds, which have been earmarked for counter-terrorism cooperation since 9/11, elapsed last year. Future US military and economic aid to Pakistan has been slashed and made conditional on certification.
Pakistan will continue to be a distant US partner and a troubled ally. Under Trump, the framework of US-Pakistan ties will remain transactional and security-centric. It will revolve around counter-terrorism, the peace process in Afghanistan, and nuclear non-proliferation. The “do more” demands from the Trump-led White House and the Republican-dominated Congress will become a routine occurrence. The Pentagon will have a greater say in determining future US policies toward Pakistan.
Generally, the US will deal with India and Pakistan separately while formulating its policies for South Asia. Keeping long-term US strategic interests in focus, India will feature quite high on the American priority list due to their commonality of goals and interests in defeating terrorism, containing China, and enhancing economic ties. The US is already helping India become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, supporting its stance on Kashmir, and favoring the Indian bid for permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council.
The Trump administration will certainly turn the heat on Pakistan to expedite the slow-moving Mumbai trial case and bring it to its logical conclusion. Similarly, the pressure to act against the India-focused militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad will increase. Likewise, demands to dismantle Taliban sanctuaries on Pakistani soil will also escalate.
The immediate negative fallout of Trump’s polices on US-Pakistan relations will be indirect. For instance, his Middle East policy could result in a reduction in remittances as well as layoffs of Pakistani workers in the Gulf States. Similarly, his stringent visa policy towards Muslim countries is likely to affect Pakistan as well. Moreover, if high tariff barriers are instituted it could negatively affect Pakistani exports to the US.
Presently, there is a bipartisan consensus in Washington on South Asia that is tilted in favor of India and which keeps separate and de-hyphenated engagements with Pakistan. Pakistan would do well to work with the US in areas where their interests converge and have frank talks on issues of divergence to articulate its reservations instead of making false promises.