Donald Trump’s victory has caught the World by its throat, and in all likelihood, we are in for interesting times. His victory presents an interesting case study oscillating between “democracy at its best” and democracy at its worst”. It is perhaps the biggest political upset that America has ever seen in its electoral history. Important capitals are bending backwards to accommodate the inevitable. The uncertainty engulfing the world is attributable to the fact that Trump did not elaborate his foreign policy during his election campaign. His utterances on foreign policy were patchy rhetoric, than sustainable projections. To add to uncertainty, this is the first time that Trump will be holding an elected position and he has no previous political experience as well.
Like the entire World, no one took Trump seriously in Pakistan as well. Here, people overwhelmingly took Hillary’s presidency for granted. While Trump’s policy towards Pakistan and the region would unfold in due course, there is consensus among the government officials, foreign policymakers and independent experts that ‘divorce’ is not an option for either country. Lucky that Pakistani government held back the temptation to jump the Hillary bandwagon; foreign office had welcomed Trump’s offer during the campaign to play his role to diffuse tensions between India and Pakistan.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promptly felicitated Trump: “Your election is indeed the triumph of the American people and their enduring faith in the ideals of democracy, freedom, human rights and free enterprise”. Immediately after the electoral results, US Consul General in Karachi, Grace Shelton, sought to assure that Trump’s election did not signal a drastic policy change. “Our foreign policy is based on national interest and they don’t change when the government changes.”
While Hillary has conceded, a large number of Americans are yet to reconcile. In America as well as in Western democracies, public demonstrations against the popular mandate are a rare spectacle. People are out on streets to express their disapproval of Trump’s popular mandate. Protesters rallied across the United States to express shock over Trump’s victory, vowing to oppose divisive views they say helped Trump win the presidency. Protesters held banners saying ‘not my president’.
Trump too is adjusting to the reality; maybe he wasn’t sure of his victory either. Reportedly, a controversial message posted on his website on December 7, 2015 appears to have been removed. “Donald J Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” the message had said. The page was available till the morning of the Election Day, however a dubious redirect was added later. Trump’s statement regarding the ban had received global criticism and furious backlash.
Now responsibility of safe steering rests with the Republican Party, which too has a strong anti-Trump sentiment; and hence, limited leverage. Trump has often spoken of Republican Party leaders with staggering disdain when they failed to endorse him. He didn’t seek their confidence, he demanded it and taunted them when they wavered. He stands above the party and is not likely to behave as if he owes it anything—especially his presidency.
Republicans are known for their softer stance towards Pakistan. However, over the years a bipartisan consensus has evolved focusing on strategic partnership with India and a sort of transactional relationship with Pakistan. Some very important strategic concessions to India, like Agreement 123, and a country specific waiver from Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), were ceded by Bush Junior. And President Obama relentlessly pursued furtherance of these objectives. He bent backward during his second visit to India to give new impetus to operationalization of Agreement 123 by accepting the provisions of Indian Civil Liability Law regarding responsibility of compensating the victims in case of nuclear power plant accident, and made reckless effort to make India a permanent member of the NSG.
During the 2016 presidential campaign both parties had identical views about the US relation with India and Pakistan. Trump’s team may take a fresh look at the foreign policy options with regard to Russia and China. In case Trump decides to deescalate anti-Russia rhetoric and slow pace the “Contain China” objective, then it would have positive impact on Pakistan-America relations. If Trump decides to keep Obama like momentum on these two issues, then Pakistan should expect further erosion in relationship. In that case, Trump could easily pick-up the threads from joint Obama-Modi statements that have criticized Pakistan for allegedly providing sanctuaries to terrorists, and reinforce the bogie of nuclear terrorism to malign Pakistan’s nuclear programme.
Pakistan will have to wait and see. There may be no cardinal change in the US policy towards Pakistan, however, Trump administration is likely to be more assertive and demanding in the context of war on terror. Despite being allies, Pakistan-US cooperation in this domain has often been marred by misgivings and trust deficit. Like America, Pakistan too has its complaints list: lack of acknowledgement of its sacrifices in fight against terrorism and the grievance that the US is tilting the strategic balance in South Asia in favour of India.
Trump is not likely to operate under ambiguity, and may follow more transparent approach towards the entire world. Thus, rise of Trump may not, necessarily be a bad thing for Pakistan. Trump administration would do straight talk and expect the same from others. There may be even be positive surprises. America will not abandon Pakistan, but definitely, Trump will be a tougher president than Hillary. Trump has yet to lay out a detailed policy for South Asia, although he recently offered to mediate between India and Pakistan regarding the Kashmir dispute.
Reaction to Trump’s victory, from the European Union, has ranged from cautiously neutral to stun with a German newspaper headlining ‘catastrophe’. There was no diplomatic Plan B in Europe in the event of a Trump win. Hillary’s victory would have delivered a range of known quantities and qualities. It would have had a sense of familiarity as well. The Trump’s win has delivered uncertainty. Expectedly, President Putin has expressed his satisfaction.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on Trump to work towards a Palestinian state. “We are ready to deal with the elected president on the basis of a two-state solution and to establish a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders,” said presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina. Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who also heads hardline Home party said, “Trump’s victory is an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state”.
About Afghanistan, Trump had stated that he would favour keeping nearly 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan “because it’s adjacent and right next to Pakistan which has nuclear weapons.” Fifteen years after the invasion, Afghanistan is still caught in conflict. “The people of Afghanistan are tired of war. We want (Trump) to invest heavily in bringing peace to war-torn Afghanistan and stabilize our region,” said Umer Daudzai, former Afghan minister of interior. “They should not cause damage to their economy and their military in this failed war,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also congratulated Trump. “We look forward to working with you closely to take India-US bilateral ties to a new height,” Modi said in a tweet. One Hindu nationalist group in India held a victory gathering. “He’s an American nationalist. We are Indian nationalists. Only he can understand us… “We expect him to support us when it comes to terrorist attacks on India from Pakistan.” said Rashmi Gupta of the Hindu Sena.
Alongside rest of the world, Pakistan awaits to see how Trump unfolds his priorities towards Asia-Pacific in general, and South Asia in particular. While a caution is in order, panic is not called for.
The Nation, November 14, 2016
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.