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December 27, 2017

Their way or the highway


December 27, 2017

US President Donald Trump has no qualms about flaunting America’s power. That is really not necessary because the rest of us are quite conscious of the might of the United States.

The world has not seen a more powerful nation in economic, military and cultural domains as the US has been for nearly a century. Nor are we unaware of every other great power having pursued its ambitions ruthlessly since Persia emerged as the first great empire 2500 years ago. Might is right, we were told, but imagine the high representative of Trump stretching her hand in the UN Security Council against 14 other members – including Washington’s friends and allies – who opposed the US unilaterally declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The same unilateralism and arrogance is writ large all over the new US security strategy report unveiled last week. The report paints powers like Russia and China as obstacles in America’s continued global domination – as if it is the new empire’s divine right. One could laugh about the claims of virtuosity only if they were not laden with tragic implications of: ‘America First’ and to hell with the rest. But then, the Trump presidency is an unending spectacle with its heroes, heroines and villains. Beware the ‘Islamist’ baddies but never mind the deranged gunmen who kill a thousand times more Americans than foreign-based terrorists every year.

The demonstration of global opinion in the UN Security Council is repeated elsewhere as voices are raised against the brazenly imperialistic pronouncement by the Trump team. The Chinese are appalled at the sole superpower’s haughtiness when its share of the global GDP is receding and that of China rises to eventually take over the US within a few years. Beijing has already made its unhappiness known over the continued domination of global economic governance by the US and other Western nations when countries like China are making a bigger contribution to the global economy.

China and Russia have denounced the strategy, saying it represents cold-war mentality and imperialistic respectively. The security report’s tough phraseology was considered a letdown after Trump’s friendlier face-to-face meetings with the Chinese and Russian presidents. In contrast, the security document describes China and Russia as challenging “American power, influence and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity.” While listing US grievances against Beijing’s unfair economic practices, it accuses China of seeking to “displace the United States” in Asia.

In response to the US charge regarding China “expanding its power at the expense of the sovereignty of the others”, Beijing accused Washington of slander and distortion of facts. The document’s claim of Russia being the “most significant existential threat to the United States” and seeking “to restore its great power status and establish spheres of influence” and aiming to weaken US influence in the world” drew Moscow’s ire.

The document has maintained America’s benevolent stance about India, a constant factor in Washington’s foreign policy since the Clinton presidency. Pivot Asia is replaced with new jargon about the Indo-Pacific region where India is urged to synchronise its policies with those of Washington. The Indians have avoided detailed comments and have just expressed appreciation over the importance given to the India-United States relationship. Further smugness was evident in a comment by the Indian official spokesperson that “the two responsible democracies…share the same objectives.”

Among those objectives there is one to support the government in Kabul and to check the advance of forces like the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. Hence the urge to tighten the screw on Pakistan against its alleged tolerance of those movements as well as Pakistan-based groups movements allegedly hurting India in Occupied Kashmir. Besides, India and the Kabul regime expect Washington’s support to push Pakistan to lift its embargo on India’s transit trade to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

The new security strategy therefore reiterates Washington’s key demands on Pakistan to curb the movement of all those acting against India and fighting the Kabul regime. Pakistan retaliated strongly against US accusations and demands, with a Foreign Office statement understandably condemning American silence over terror attacks against Pakistan, planned and directed from Afghanistan with Indian support. While the US has consistently run a propaganda campaign against Pakistan to cover up its failure in defeating the Afghan insurgency, Pakistan’s civil and military spokesmen have stepped up their rhetoric more recently.

The anti-Pakistan tirade from Delhi, Washington and Kabul leaves Pakistan feeling like it is being pushed into a corner, and results in a growing tendency to hit back. Raising the pitch makes for good stories in the media but it is not helping efforts to resolve the hard issues. Neither the US nor Pakistan appear to be in any mood to lower the rhetoric, thereby making the task of addressing the divergences in a constructive manner ever more daunting. It is important to prevent further aggravation in Pak-US relations by engaging in purposeful and result-oriented parleys at the diplomatic and military levels.

In the larger context, we are traversing an important juncture in regional and global geopolitics. While the US leans increasingly toward India to balance China’s inexorable rise, Pakistan and China – good friends for over six decades – move even closer. Pakistan is by no means a pushover but it will be good to limit damage to its relations with the premier economic, military and technological power in the world.

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