ISLAMABAD: Embroiled in domestic issues, Pakistan’s mainstream political parties do not have any definitive views on either of the two contestants, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, running for the office of US President.
Clinton is a known name in Pakistan where the political elite believe that in case of her success, she would more or less continue with the Obama administration’s policies. While a majority does not know much about Trump, other than his meteoric rise, inveterate Muslim bashing and anti-immigrant views.
Those who prefer Clinton to Trump, do it due to risks and uncertainties attached to him if he is elected.
Though, the Republican manifesto mentions ‘more engagement’ with Pakistan and it is critical of Obama’s Afghan policy, Trump’s view about Pakistan and South Asian region are not clear. This is because there was hardly mention of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the South Asia in the entire election campaign except as passing reference on few occasions.
However, politicians in Pakistan believe whoever wins this race, he or she would shape the US foreign policy after institutional feedback.
Discussions with second-tier leadership of some of the main stream political parties, who have discern in foreign policy issues, offer some insight into the mindset of these groups.
There is a rare convergence of thoughts both in the government and opposition camps on the situation in Afghanistan and its overriding effects on Pakistan’s counter-terrorism, and campaign against militant groups in the country, which will be pivotal to the US foreign policy in any case.
The US role in the regional alignment would be the next important contour in their policy once the new president finalises the foreign policy.
Senator Sherry Rehman, a former ambassador to the United States, thinks both Democrats and Republicans have somewhat different approaches regarding Pakistan.
Republicans’ manifesto advocates more engagement with Pakistan while Democrats, on the contrary, continue their current policies for the region.
“…Both would have more or less same policy towards South Asia at the end of the day,” she said.
According to Rehman, both the parties would continue to look at Pakistan with the ‘lens’ of Afghanistan. Given fragile situation in Afghanistan, the US engagement in the war-torn country is not going to decrease in the foreseeable future. “There might be some engagements with Pakistan beyond that [Afghanistan], but I don’t see it right now.”
She was candid in responding to another query regarding a possible US role in key appointments in Pakistan like in the military. “I don’t think they have say in that. They have comments and ideas, but I don’t think they have a say in that”.
Similar were the views of Shah Mehmood Qureshi, now vice chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, and a former foreign minister. He favours Clinton since two worked together when they were counterparts.
“She [Clinton] has been secretary of state and her views are known. She would re-adjust herself in accordance with ground realities which keep on changing. More or less we know about her direction,” he told The Express Tribune.
Based on his interaction with Donald Trump’s foreign policy adviser, Qureshi extrapolated Republican candidates foreign policy on South Asia was at “formative stage” and so far there is no clarity on issues of this region. However, in case he [Trump] succeeds he would get input from different institutions before formulating his policy.
The PTI leader believes Clinton is well versed with Pakistan and issues of this region. “Whoever wins, [he or she] would have to engage with Pakistan. But, again their engagement would mainly revolve around AfPak.”
In the newly-emerging regional alignments, where the US is trying to use India as its ‘bulwark’ against China, the former foreign minister said, adding that Pakistan at the same time should continue its engagement with America.
Chairman Senate Defence Committee Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed said the US is no longer the ‘sole super power’, and in a multipolar world, where the West is losing global clout and influence, it matters less who’s occupying the White House tomorrow.
For Pakistan’s political leadership, this means that ‘the road to Islamabad no longer goes via Washington’. Whoever wins, he said, US policies towards Pakistan will be based on promoting their country’s interests.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s Owais Leghari, who is chairman of National Assembly foreign affairs committee believes there will be no change in US policy.
“Whoever sits in Oval office will be getting feedback from same State Department, Pentagon and other institutions of their security. They would have their policy based on this feedback,” he added.
Jamaat-e-Islami chief Sirajul Haq also does not expect any major changes in US policy towards Pakistan in either case. He said it is not the personalities that matter in Western countries but institutions. “They make long-term policies…for them their economic interests dominate in their policy making.”