What Pakistan can expect with Trump in Oval Office

Will the Trump Administration follow suit its predecessor’s policy towards Pakistan or can one expect a reversal?

Ejaz Hussain November 29, 2016

The results of the recent US elections might have shocked many all over the world, including those Americans who voted for Ms Clinton, but it did not surprise political scientists whose survey-based analysis favoured Hillary, though marginally. Little wonder then, she defeated her electoral opponent, Donald Trump, in terms of popular vote. It is, nevertheless, a pity that a presidential candidate, who gains maximum number of votes, could not make it to the presidency. And this has happened in the past too during the Bush v Al Gore election of 2000. However, this time around, electoral college vote was pretty much clearly in favour of Donald Trump who won in the so called ‘swing states’ convincingly. Much is already said about Trump’s election campaign strategy which played with both rhetoric and reality regarding matters ranging from immigration to Muslims.

A blessing in disguise for Pakistan?

This article, however, is mostly concerned with the implications of the US election for Pakistan. Will the Trump Administration follow suit its predecessor’s policy towards Pakistan or can one expect a reversal? How will the Trump administration view the ongoing war on terror with reference to the US strategic concerns in Afghanistan, in particular, and South Asia and the Pacific, in general? Will Pakistani military, which has historically enjoyed warm relations with republicans, be comfortable with Trump administration on, for instance, nuclear weapons, terrorism, existence of (banned) militant organisations in Pakistan, India-Pakistan relations, CPEC, etc? Or will the Trump administration declare Pakistan a failed state which is perpetuating regional instability by nurturing and nourishing jihadis who are fighting in Kashmir, Kabul and Syria, and ultimately bar Pakistanis from entering the US and joining US-led organisations? These are pertinent questions and possible scenarios that require theoretical and empirical treatment.

The things Trump has said about Pakistan

To begin, under the Obama administration, the US policy and approach towards Pakistan went through structural transformation as compared to the Bush legacy that viewed Pakistan largely as a potential ally that could help Washington achieve its strategic and military objectives in Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11. Such a mindset essentially favoured military-to-military relations whereby Pakistani military was not only viewed as an important actor with influence over militant organisations based in Afghanistan but also a force capable enough to manage its nukes. Little wonder, Pakistan received more than US$35 billion in military aid and economic assistance with little pressure on nuclear warheads. However, the Obama administration started exercising economic and strategic constraint on Pakistan – a country that, at least from the US perspective, double-crossed its global patron to fight militancy and terrorism in and around Afghanistan. Not only has Pakistan been unable to receive F-16s this year but has also seen gradual reduction in monetary assistance. To add fuel to fire, the US seems to revise its strategic alignments in and around South Asia, and India has gradually started to factor in the US’s calculations in a region where Iran and Afghanistan assume central position.

The Trump administration is most likely to continue with the Obama legacy of strategically preferring India to Pakistan and pressuring Pakistan to come clean and hard on the existing infrastructure and manpower of jihadi organisations that, according to Trump’s campaign statements, are part and parcel of the Islamic State. Pakistani military would have to deicide either to oppose or reconcile with the Trumpian world-view. If the Pakistan state - indeed its powerful army- chooses to confront the US (while playing with the China card), the US is most likely to embrace India and Afghanistan fully and Pakistan will gradually be cut off from the US sphere of influence, financial assistance, technical input, military hardware and training, etc.

Pakistan welcomes Trump offer to make peace with India

In that scenario, Pakistani-Americans would suffer from institutional biases at best to possible de-naturalisation and deportation in certain, if not all, cases. President elect has already called for the preparation of a ‘registry’ that enumerates the Muslims living in the US. However, if Pakistan decides to work with Washington, this will result in mutual warmth of relations with dividends for peace and stability in Pakistani boarding areas with Afghanistan and India. Indeed, President Trump, as per his campaign vow, could play a mediatory role between India and Pakistan to neutralise conflict in Kashmir. After all, the US’s long-term interest lies in peace and economic stability of the South Asian markets. Such an approach will carry stabilising value for CPEC in particular and US-China relations in general.

As regards Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, the Trump administration is likely to take a tough stance on it as compared to the democrats and republicans in the past if Pakistan chooses to go against the US’s interests regarding the war on terror. Pakistan may have to face nuclear sanctions and economic embargo, probably of the type Iran had faced for decades.

White House says no evidence of US voting fraud

Hence, Pakistani political and military leadership will have to decide rationally: That means not let the country get hurt for the sake of, for example, a pro-jihadi policy, that has already backfired with attacks on innocent Pakistanis and state institutions. Pakistan needs to keep in mind that China has emerged as a potential partner whose primary interest in Pakistan is trade through regional connectivity. Similarly, India is no longer viewed with strategic apprehensions in Washington and the former has been effective to win over the current Afghan government. China-India bilateral trade is well over US$74 billion, thus Pakistan needs to rank its choices carefully and rationally – not just for one institution, but the country as a whole. Any partisan and ah-doc policy will harm Pakistan from the medium to the long run.


The author is a Fulbright postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley. He tweets @ejazbhatty and can be reached at [email protected]


dubious | 4 years ago | Reply Nice article. Unfortunately his argument that Pakistan should make it's decisions logically will fall on deaf ears. After all - where's the logic of siding with terrorist who want to destroy two of your neighbors? That policy has destroyed Pakistan's International reputation and may have destroyed any chance of peace/prosperity for Pakistan. It should be noted that the policy was adopted by the military who seem to get more funding with conflict rather than peace.
Mostly Bull | 4 years ago | Reply @singh: what are the results of the calculations?
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