A fresh approach

February 16,2017

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Every US president is sensitive about his legacy. Donald Trump is equally conscious of how Trumponianism will be remembered. Pakistan’s relations with the US during the new president’s tenure are likely to shape his legacy, even though South Asia does not currently appear to be a top priority on America’s foreign policy menu. President Trump’s policy towards Pakistan could present a significant departure from his predecessor.

Both countries have some key common interests. In pursuit of these common interests, Pakistan can play a vital role towards Trumponianism. In return, the least that Pakistan would expect is an end to the eight years of Obama’s policies against it.

Notwithstanding his xenophobia and singular focus on so-called ‘Islamic’ terrorism, Trump should be appreciated for standing up for the common Americans who were being neglected earlier.

The US and Pakistan can apply some minor course-settings in pursuit of the common goal of combating terrorism. Islamabad has signalled that it is amenable to readjustments. The decision to place Hafiz Saeed under house arrest seems to be the first step. Washington DC could also reciprocate by adopting nuances in its policy and eschewing the word ‘Islamic’. Islam does not condone terrorism as it is a religion of peace. As one of the most populous Islamic states, Pakistan wants to defeat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

Stabilising Afghanistan is a key common interest between Pakistan and the US. A peaceful Afghanistan will allow the Trump administration to singularly focus on defeating militant organisations elsewhere and Pakistan can play a crucial role in this regard. It is the only country in the world that has successfully brought the terrorism index down over the past three years.

Trump’s proposed role in the resolution of the Kashmir dispute could not only stabilise the Subcontinent but South Asia as well. There are signs that the US might reach a detente with Russia and China under Trump. The US president has climbed down from his past threats and has agreed to honour the ‘One-China’ policy. This appears to be a fantastic idea but a detente among China, Russia and the US can reduce global security overloads – particularly those in South Asia.

Being a successful entrepreneur and pragmatic businessman, Trump has taken an unprecedented approach in stabilising the global order that came under considerable strain over the last decade. Even before entering the Oval Office, he took charge of the policy towards China. The Trump administration stepped out of Trans-Pacific Partnership that was believed to be a strategy to contain China.

If the US and China readjust their approach towards trade and currency valuation issues, the pivot to Asia’s policy of the erstwhile Obama administration will scale down. The process would reduce the overload of the previous administration and enable Trump to stabilise the global order and improve relations with Pakistan.

Stability in Sino-US relations and their economic rebalance would contribute towards the improvement of the US economy. The US could then participate in $58 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor – which is a flagship project of China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ economic policy for Asia, Europe and Africa. If the desired rapprochement eludes Sino-US relations, Trump’s America First strategy would be the initial casualty. The economies of the two countries are intrinsically linked to each other and military competition does not suit America’s long-term interests.

A readjustment in Pakistan’s relations with the US and plans to break away from the Obama administration’s approach will depend on the initial steps that the Trump administration takes in its policy towards the region. Reinforcing the poor choices of the past would only lead to instability and complicate the goal of eliminating terrorism and reducing external stresses on the ailing US economy. No time should be lost in taking a fresh start and establishing mutually agreed rules of engagement between both countries.

No US administration can afford to adopt a collision course with the domestic and international players. Such an approach can quickly isolate it from the rest of the world and the Trump administration is mindful of this pitfall. The power structure in the US has a system of checks and balances in which every ambition is made to counteract another ambition.

Trump cannot afford to be a self-determining architect of the country’s strategic roadmap. His approach has unsettled those who are used to the status quo. A fresh approach towards strengthening Pak-US relations would be key to Trumponianism.

The writer is a senior research and
policy analyst at NUST Global Think-Tank Network, Islamabad.


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