December 02, 2016Print : Editorial
US President-elect Donald Trump, like any other incoming leader, has been busy receiving calls of congratulation from friends and foes alike, but he has brought his own unique Trumpian touch to the conversations. After telling British Prime Minister Theresa May to drop by any time she happens to be visiting the US and letting his daughter participate in a phone call with the Argentinean president, we now have his first communication with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The details of the phone call, initiated by PM Nawaz Sharif, seem to have been released almost verbatim by our government and there might be a temptation to take Trump’s liberal use of superlatives at face value. In his typical fashion, he called Pakistanis some of the most intelligent people around and personally told Nawaz that he is a “terrific guy”. Pakistan was, strangely, quick to release a press statement detailing the exchange – almost verbatim. Was it hoped that Trump’s lavish praise would suggest a changed global picture to the world? Trump’s own transition team turned down requests for comment on this exchange between the two leaders. But it would be silly to read too much into this praise. It is standard operating procedure for any world leader to be diplomatic in conversations with foreign governments, even if they are less colourful in their choice of words. For the Pakistani PM to call Trump to congratulate him and be equally gracious is also in keeping with protocol.
Not long ago, Trump had said that Pakistan had the potential to be a rogue country and that India would then act as a check on it. That, unfortunately, might be a better guide to Trump’s thinking than what he said to Nawaz Sharif. After all, all US presidents, no matter what their policies towards Pakistan, have paid lip service to good relations and been circumspect enough not to be antagonistic in their interactions with Pakistani leaders. US foreign policy is based on need and an assessment of their own interests. Pakistan has so far been perceived useful to the US for its fight against militancy and that use will change depending on circumstance, not the whim of a US president. Right now we have very little specific detail on Trump’s foreign policy views – perhaps because he doesn’t seem to have many steady convictions himself – but he has had less than favourable things to say about Muslims and one of the first proposals that has been leaked from his incoming administration is a plan to introduce “extreme vetting” for visitors from specific Muslim countries. Pakistan is on that list. The US has been moving closer to India for years now out of self-interest since India offers more trading opportunities and parrots the US line on terrorism. There is no reason to believe that will change under Trump, especially since he enjoyed a lot of support from the Indian community in the US. Ultimately, we will have to wait and see if there is any change in American policy towards Pakistan; and it would be premature to think one phone call will have any discernible impact.