Tuesday February 20, 2024

Ties with the US

November 18, 2016

Brexit shook Europe, and Trump’s victory has shocked the whole world. He not only bludgeoned the 24/7 US media punditry but also falsified the pre-electoral projections which termed Hillary Clinton as the favourite candidate.

After his victory, the US’s friends and foes are equally worried about Trump’s future course of action. During his election campaign, he blew hot and cold against his allies and opponents alike. For instance, he praised Russian President Putin for fighting Islamic radicalism and criticised Nato as a redundant organisation that should be disbanded.

In Pakistan, Trump’s victory has evoked mixed responses about the possible impact of his presidency on US-Pakistan relations. Currently, Islamabad features quite low on Washington’s priority list.

What is less surprising about Trump’s victory is the consolidation of right-wing votes in the West. Traditional-realism and native-nationalism is on the upsurge in the West, while neo-liberal values and institutions are on the decline. The West, as we knew it, is changing rapidly. Will the upsurge of realism and 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 Pakistan-US ties become colder or will they remain at the current level? More importantly, what are the benchmarks to evaluate Trump’s future policies – his election campaign rhetoric or his post-election appointments and the inaugural-speech he is going to make in January? Probably, a combination of both factors will 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 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, but the reality of running the office is quite another. After briefings from the Pentagon, state department, CIA and other key institutions, Trump’s pre-electoral rhetoric is likely to get toned down. Notwithstanding his promises, in retrospect, President Obama could neither shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention camp nor 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 down-gradation. However, ties will remain trouble-prone and bumpy. Since 2011, Pakistan’s importance as a key US ally has decreased following the killing of Osama bin Laden in a US Navy Seals operation in Abbottabad. One measure of that is no visit to the US by former army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani in his second extension (2011-2013) and only one trip by the incumbent military chief General Raheel Sharif in 2015.

Notwithstanding Trump’s victory, US-Pakistan ties are already very cold and cannot sink any further. Washington and Islamabad do not look towards each other favourably. Pakistan does not seem 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 former Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour in Balochistan and scuttling the Pakistan initiated QCG-process. The Coalition Support Fund, earmarked for counterterrorism cooperation since 9/11, lapsed last year. Future military and economic aid to Pakistan has been slashed and made conditional to certification.

However, 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 counterterrorism, 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. Pentagon will have a greater say in determining future US policies towards Pakistan.

Generally, the US will deal with India and Pakistan separately. Keeping the long-term US strategic interests in focus, India will feature quite high on the American priority list due to common 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 favouring the Indian bid to get permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council.

The Trump administration will certainly turn the heat on Pakistan to expedite the slow-moving Mumbai attacks case and take it to a logical conclusion. Similarly, the pressure to take action against groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) will increase. Likewise, the demands to dismantle Taliban sanctuaries from Pakistani soil will also escalate.

The immediate negative fallout of Trump’s polices on Pakistan’s relations with the US will be indirect. For instance, his Middle East policy could result in a cut down of remittances and layoffs of the Pakistani workers in the Gulf States. Similarly, his stringent visa policy towards Muslim countries is likely to affect Pakistani as well. Moreover, if high tariff barriers are instituted they could negatively affect Pakistani exports to the US.

At present, there is a bipartisan consensus in Washington on South Asia – tilted in favour of India and in favour of separate and de-hyphenated engagements with Pakistan. Pakistan would do well to work with the US in areas where our interests converge, and have frank talks on issues of divergence to articulate its reservations instead of making false promises.


The writer is an associate research

fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of
International Studies, Singapore.