A new direction?
The status-quo is no more. Pakistan-US relationship has been one wobbly affair marred by extreme highs and lows over the years
It’s over. The lies, the deceptions, the disillusionments. The silliness behind strategic depth, the distinction between the good and the bad Taliban, the rendezvous with the Haqqanis; all of that is now largely redundant. Washington has transformed overnight. The Donald is the new boss in town and he only knows one way of doing things: straight talk. The sooner Islamabad comes to terms with that fact, the more viable of a relationship it can develop with the Trump administration.
The Trump campaign, driven mainly by political rhetoric, has been really scarce on giving out policy statements. While the US and the global policymakers are still trying to wrap their heads around Trump’s surprise victory, it cannot be said with certaintyhow the United States’ foreign policy is going to transform under him. Pakistan, like many others, will safely sit back and watch for its potential role in the global agenda that Trump will set.
However, the old relationship between the US and Pakistan is not going to go on like has. The status-quo is no more. Pakistan-US relationship has been one wobbly affair marred by extreme highs and lows over the years. This relationship has seen some fragile moments but has been delicately protected by the establishments of the two countries. Years of confidence-building measures, diplomatic assurances and of course billions of dollars have been invested in it. However, even after decades of supposed alliance, this relationship still remains marred with distrust from both sides. Both the United States and the Pakistan continue to remain dissatisfied at the mutual support they have provided to each other. Hence, this relationship remains largely inefficient, if not completely futile, in steering the rapid changes in the region. And, this is what can allow Trump to make his case for some kind of a radical make-over of the United States’ relationship with Pakistan if he wills.
However, Pakistan’s Foreign Office remains optimistic and hopeful about “working closely with the new administration in pursuit of common ideals of freedom, democracy and prosperity”. In an official statement issued by the Foreign Office following Trump’s election, possibility of Trump-led mediation in solving the Kashmir issue was also appreciated. Pakistan’s optimism about changes in Washington, however, is perhaps not matched by Mr Trump who called Pakistan a “semi-unstable” state during his campaign. Answering a question about Pakistan, Trump had also said that “there are many countries that we give a lot of money to and we get absolutely nothing in return and that’s going to stop fast”.
While Trump will inherit in Afghanistan the longest war United States has ever been a part of, he will likely be screaming ‘do-more’ harder than the previous administration. His unconventional and blunt campaign has revealed that Trump is a man of extremes, he is likely to operate in the binary of “with us” or “against us” more than Bush and his successor ever did. This makes the grey area that Pakistan has been fondly operating on a red-zone.
Dr Marvin Weinbaum, former Afghanistan and Pakistan analyst at the Bureau of Intelligence Research at the US Department of State, who recently addressed an audience at LUMS about the possible changes in the US-Pakistan relationship, concurs with this opinion. He said Trump is likely to “tighten the screws and put on more conditionalities on Pakistan” after assuming power in January. Weinbaum said in face of a “failed transition in Afghanistan”, the “unhappiness and frustration in Washington is growing” and it would certainly mean Pakistan will have to address US concerns more effectively. While more than 8,000 American troops remain in Afghanistan, the security situation has only worsened in recent days. Moreover, the working partnership relationship between the Afghan president and the chief executive remains sour. This has only led to a relative increase in the influence of Afghan Taliban which, according to Weinbaum, means that the “peace talks in future with the Afghan Taliban cannot be ruled out”. In such a possibility, Pakistan’s role will have to become more proactive than it currently is.
While the whole world waits to see which direction will Trump steer the free world into; only a few should be as anxious as Pakistan
Trump has not only got control of the White House but is also going to enjoy backing of the both houses of the Congress that the Republicans control now. Republican congressmen have been calling for a reduction in aid to Pakistan for a long time under the Obama administration. Two Republican senators recently moved a bill to declare Pakistan a state-sponsor of terrorism. Although that bill was defeated, it represented the antagonistic trend of the Republican lawmakers towards Pakistan that is now going to be relatively unchallenged by either Congress or the White House.
However, many believe that foreign policy under Trump is not likely to change drastically, at least initially. Ambassador Azmat Hassan, who has served at many high-level diplomatic positions, shares that view. Talking to Pakistan Today, he said “Trump is likely to remain preoccupied with his domestic agenda that he has so vehemently advocated for during his campaign”. He also said that any radical changes on the diplomatic front would not come overnight. Answering a question about cutting aid to Pakistan, Hassan said “cutting any more aid will just weaken any leverage the United States has on Pakistan”.
However, as the end-game in Afghanistan hangs in uncertainty, a considerable number of seasoned diplomats is of the view that many changes are expected in the Trump administration vis-à-vis Pakistan. Husain Haqqani, former Pakistani ambassador to the US, believes Trump “is unlikely to be as patient about Afghan reconciliation as President Obama”. Talking to Pakistan Today, he added that Trump “will clearly be more favourably disposed to India than Pakistan and that might influence his views on Afghanistan as well”.
While the whole world waits to see which direction will Trump steer the free world into; only a few should be as anxious as Pakistan. While Clinton’s victory would have merely meant a continuation of decades-old, carefully-constructed, fractured-but-functional relationship, Trump’s victory carries with it a bag full of potential surprises. How the US will approach the end-game in Afghanistan under Trump will only become clear in due time. But it will be crucial to the interests of Pakistan to adjust to it proactively even if it means dumping many of its old, counterproductive policies altogether.