Wednesday April 24, 2024

Trump: more of the same and worse

By Shireen M Mazari
January 26, 2017

Our civil and military leaderships’ dream of an intimacy with the US has been as steadfast over decades as the US leaders’ refusal to convert the dream into a reality.

Under Donald Trump that disconnect in expectations will become even more acute, notwithstanding the Pakistan government’s euphoria over the Trump-Nawaz telephone conversation. Of course, the present government, which seems to rely on personal friendships rather than a cohesive foreign policy, has displayed a stubborn inability to learn from the negative fallout of the Nawaz-Modi friendship on Pakistan and we may have to suffer some serious setbacks before this government wakes up to the bitter reality of the Donald presidency.

Incidentally, Trump spoke to Modi on Tuesday (January 24) and referred to India as a “true friend and partner in addressing challenges around the world” with whom he sought a greater economic and defence partnership. While the pre-swearing in call to Sharif focused positively (apparently) on the person of the PM, the call to Modi focused on the criticality of India to the Trump Administration – a continuity of the post-Vision doctrine of Clinton for the Indo-US relationship.

Not that the Obama years were good for Pakistan, but the arrogance accompanied by ignorance has made for a dangerous mix in the shape of Donald Trump. One, Trump has shown his negativity towards Islam by referring to “Islamic terrorism” – thereby creating a rationale for all manner of aggressive interventions in Muslim countries. The post-9/11 pretext to destroy strong, albeit non-democratic, Arab states was the ‘democracy’ agenda of the US and the EU through the Greater and Broader Middle East agendas (GMEI and BMEI) which kept the monarchies out of democracy’s reach, but successfully destroyed Iraq, Syria and Libya while ironically rejecting the results of a populist democratic ascendancy to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Now we will see the Trump agenda of dismantling ‘Islamic terrorism’ take over as the new pretext for bringing other Muslim states into line.

For Pakistan that means a more negatively interventionist US policy which could see a revival of drone attacks (Trump’s administration had its first drone attack on Yemen and it has been in office less than a week) plus the possibility of US covert military operations inside Pakistan. In his exit memo – which the state department has now removed from its website – on January 5, 2017, John Kerry noted: “We have constructed state-of-the-art tactical security operations centres in key countries, such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.”

So, the Pakistan government – despite many of us raising our voices over exactly this disturbing development – has already provided the physical structure for such covert US military operations in Pakistan. Now with the US getting deeper into a quagmire in Afghanistan and, as usual, looking to blame others for its own policy debacles, Pakistan will provide a ready target on the pretext of dealing with ‘Islamic terrorism’. Other Muslim states will also come under the rubric of this Trump pronouncement, but for us the focus must be Pakistan.

Two, the nuclear issue and Trump’s push for further strengthening the US’s nuclear arsenal will also impact Pakistan negatively, especially within the expanding Indo-US strategic partnership, with a strong defence and nuclear component. Just before Christmas, Trump declared: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability”. The voices from the US have always had an element of hysteria towards Pakistan’s nuclear capability and the Trump administration will provide greater official patronage to these hysterical voices.

Pakistan’s testing of its second-strike capability through the sea-launched cruise missile test and its latest nuclear and MIRV-capable Ababeel missile test has been a timely development, but unless we match our capability to a viable and resolute declaratory policy, we will not gain the political advantages that should accompany such developments. The pressure by the Obama administration on the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to admit India sans Pakistan will increase under the Trump administration as will US pressure on Pakistan to freeze if not rollback its nuclear missile development.

Three, Trump’s hostility towards China, especially on trade, and his efforts to undo the ‘One China’ policy that the US had adopted for decades will also have a fallout on Pakistan – especially on the CPEC project which already sits uncomfortably with the US. The US has shown great unease over the evolving Pakistan-China strategic partnership as it has widened its scope beyond the purely military. Just as earlier US administrations pressured successive Pakistan governments to stall the Iran pipeline project, the Trump administration will do the same on the CPEC.

While traditionally there is a shift in the electoral rhetoric of US presidential candidates and the post-election statements of the successful candidate, in the case of Donald Trump there has been a reaffirmation of his campaign rhetoric through the executive orders he has issued immediately after moving into the White House. So one must assume his rhetoric will be translated into policy action regardless of the consequences.

So what should Pakistan do? Certainly not wait and watch, as Trump only understands unambiguous words and actions. Instead we need to move proactively on three broad fronts to send a clear message to the Trump administration. One: the government must move immediately to cut down the US embassy to a size reciprocal to our diplomatic presence in the US. Pakistan cannot afford to let the US operate a tactical security centre from Islamabad – especially given the close US-India military cooperation, which already includes access to each other’s military bases and information sharing. As for Afghanistan, the government should move bilaterally and multilaterally to resolve its ongoing issues with Kabul with a resolute and clear-cut policy of cooperation as well as red lines on all issues from border management to terrorism. It is time for both countries to end the doublespeak.

There is a very small window of opportunity for Pakistan while Trump is settling in, to redefine its relationship with Kabul in clear terms with zero tolerance for all forms of terrorist activities on both sides of the border. Parliamentary consensus on an Afghan policy will provide strength to the government’s position and ensure a civilian policy vacuum does not prevail. Most crucial, we must accept that we cannot deal with terrorism selectively.

Two: On the nuclear issue, we should continue on the path of second-strike capability and MIRVs, while suggesting a strategic dialogue to India. At the same time, we should evolve declaratory policies to reflect these technical developments – matching our capabilities with policies. Our diplomacy needs to be bolstered on the NSG issue instead of the entire burden being put on China to fight our NSG battle.

Three: We should strengthen CPEC by including states like Iran as well as EU members like Germany who are showing an interest in the economic potential of the project. Increasing the stakeholders will decrease US leverage on destroying or stalling this critical project.

The Trump threat extends beyond Pakistan and even the Muslim World but we must look to securing our immediate interests as Trump casts his shadow on the world with a Hitlerian vengeance.


The writer is DG SSII and a PTI MNA. The views expressed are her own. Email: