Pakistan in a fix to pick sides in US presidential poll

Published: November 8, 2016

ISLAMABAD: American voters are all set to decide who is a better choice — Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump — for the Oval Office. But for Pakistan, the choice is not between good or bad rather it is a matter of who will be the ‘lesser evil’.

Pakistan’s predicament is who should it back to win the US presidential election. This is the crux of what The Express Tribune has gathered in background and on-the-record interviews with Pakistani policymakers, analysts and government officials.

What impact will US elections have on Pakistan?

Unlike previous election campaigns, this time there has been little debate on US foreign policy issues during the hotly contested polls. Hence there is no clear insight into how the US foreign policy will unfold after the vote.

“In Hillary Clinton’s case, one can predict her policies,” said a senior Foreign Office official. If she wins, one can safely assume that she will follow the same path as her Democratic predecessors have been for the last 8 years when it comes to America’s policy vis-à-vis Pakistan and the region.

As Secretary of State, Hillary had visited the region a few times and therefore is well versed with the dynamics of this part of the region, including Pakistan. What worries the Pakistani policymakers the most is that the American tilt towards India would further grow if the Democrat candidate wins the race.

“That process will be further accelerated if she (Hillary) wins,” cautioned the official. Pakistan is not upset about the growing strategic partnership between Washington and New Delhi but Islamabad’s main concern is that it should not hurt its interests.

Surprisingly, unlike the popular belief, foreign policymakers in Islamabad think that given Hillary’s credentials, Trump may not be a bad choice for Pakistan to bet on for better understanding of its position on key areas, including the fight against terrorism and complex nature of its relations with India.

The assessment is interesting in view of the negative perception about Trump among Muslim countries and even the Pakistani-American community because of his radical views such as banning the entry of Muslims into the United States.

US Elections: Pakistani-Americans have picked a side

“We don’t need to take rhetoric seriously. Power has its own compulsions and dynamics,” said another official, who is closely monitoring the US election campaign.

“America is not a country where one person can have a solo show,” the official said. “Despite Trump’s rhetoric, there will be no fundamental change in US policies, particularly towards Pakistan.”

In fact, if Trump wins, this will provide Pakistan more room to manoeuvre to get its point of view heard unlike in Hillary’s case, the official pointed out.

The cautious optimism stemmed from the fact that since politics is a new territory for Trump this leaves Pakistan with more ‘ground to scratch’ in Washington.

The Republican candidate has said nothing or little on Pakistan during his campaign. The only reference he made to Pakistan was in response to a question asked by an Indian journalist that whether he would support Narendra Modi government’s action against Islamabad to stop cross-border terrorism.

But instead of taking the reporter’s bait, Trump had this to say: “Well, I would love to see Pakistan and India get along, because that’s a very, very hot tinderbox…. That would be a very great thing. I hope they can do it.” He also said he would be happy to ‘mediate’ between the two countries to defuse the situation.

But the problem for Pakistan is that Trump also has a tilt towards India like his rival candidate. Majority of the Indian-Americans as well as Indians back home are backing him to get elected in the hope that Trump would get tough on ‘extremism and terrorism’ and by its extension on Pakistan.

“Don’t expect that either of them will be friendly to Pakistan,” cautioned former ambassador Ali Sarwar Naqvi. “If I were to choose between Hillary and Trump, I would go for Hillary,” Naqvi said, explaining that the Democrat candidate will be more predictable unlike her Republican rival.

“But in the end it is a matter of who will be a lesser evil for Pakistan… and I think in this case Hillary is a better choice,” added Naqvi, who has served in different capacities in the US mission and observed at least three presidential elections in America.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is doing its ‘homework’ to prepare for the change in the Oval Office. Foreign Office officials contend that no matter how fragile Pakistan-US relations have been over the years, the fact remains that Islamabad’s importance has not diluted by any means.

Survey: Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton – Who do Pakistanis support?

“The US has to have good relations with Pakistan,” said a diplomat, currently posted in Washington.

The reason, the diplomat said, is that the US mission in Afghanistan has yet to complete. Secondly, Pakistan, a nuclear state of 200 million and located at a strategic location, cannot be ignored by any US administration.

“Our utility and importance remains depending how we play our cards,” the official said and went on to add, “We are not sitting idle. We are doing our homework to reach out to the new US administration.”

The change of office in the US comes at a time when Pakistan’s relations with the world’s sole superpower are far from ideal.

The strain in ties is primarily linked to differences between the two countries on how to fight terrorism and put an end to 15-year-long conflict in Afghanistan. Also the US in recent months has been increasingly concerned at Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, particularly its tactical nuclear weapons.

The situation was further aggravated by a US Congress decision to block funds to be provided to Pakistan for the procurement of F-16 fighter jets earlier this year.

On its part, Islamabad has its own list of grievances starting from Washington’s lack of acknowledgement of its sacrifices in the fight against terrorism as well as giving its arch-rival India an edge by entering a civilian nuclear deal with it.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 8th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (12)

  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Nov 8, 2016 - 9:09AM

    Why pick sides. Stay neutral and wait for the result. Presidential election in USA is their internal matter. We are also not obliged to follow other countries.Recommend

  • jamshaidmalik
    Nov 8, 2016 - 11:11AM

    this is batter pakistan election becaus he dos not clam to each other he provide the soluction to public he understand the public issuses Recommend

  • Asif
    Nov 8, 2016 - 11:40AM

    Which side ? You have already picked China and any of the two will bring misery to Pakistan.Recommend

  • Amit
    Nov 8, 2016 - 12:56PM

    Same is the case with India, irrespective of who ever comes they will be bad for Pakistan and similarly whoever wins will be good for India.Recommend

  • Amjad
    Nov 8, 2016 - 1:14PM

    Ch. Allah Daad if you had any common sense you would know that the American elections impact the entire world. To say why we are following their elections shows your lack of knowledge. American president is really the president of the worldRecommend

  • Shahab Uddin
    Nov 8, 2016 - 1:14PM

    @Allah Daad: Who ever gets elected in United States IS of concern to the rest of world since EVERY country has it’s political situation directly or indirectly influenced(if not directed and governed) by the United States.Recommend

  • cautious
    Nov 8, 2016 - 1:43PM

    When Clinton was Secretary of State relations with Pakistan were at an all time low. Obama was so angry with Zardari he ended up refusing to even talk to the man. Trump maybe an unknown but at least he won’t be taking office with a built in anger towards Pakistan. Recommend

  • Ali Yusuf Qureshi
    Nov 8, 2016 - 2:24PM

    Pakistan should not be picking sides at all. Firstly it is not about us and secondly we cannot influence any change by doing so. Hence it is not our place to do so. Frankly a very poor premise for an article.Recommend

  • Menon
    Nov 8, 2016 - 3:04PM

    Pakistan does not have a vote.

    Pick whomever you want!Recommend

  • Fauzia Mussarat
    Nov 8, 2016 - 3:28PM

    We should have known by now our saas-bahu relationship with US. They fallow their national policy and interest no matter which side is ruling. Recommend

  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Nov 8, 2016 - 4:56PM

    @Shahab Uddin:
    Whenever we pick a side, we always pick a wrong side, that was the reason I said to stay neural. You guys have more sense, therefore please suggest what we should do. Pick Hillary who has played crucial part in destroying Middle East or Trump, who does not know where Pakistan is, not even on map. Recommend

  • Fi
    Nov 8, 2016 - 5:27PM

    Why do we have to pick? Whoever is elected, we have to work with him/her.Recommend

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