From ‘strained’ to ‘tense’ via Twitter

Published: January 3, 2018
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President Donald Trump is a dangerous man, with the principal danger being that he is a child in a man’s body with an intellect to match his diminutive internal stature. He kicked off the New Year in a typical fashion with a tweet that was so insulting to Pakistan that it prompted a calling-in of the American ambassador to the Foreign Office, there to doubtless receive some acid words from Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua. It is rare for senior diplomats to be so peremptorily summoned in the late evening, and is indicative of the gravity of this accelerating decay in the quality of relations between Pakistan and the US.

It is unknown whether President Trump was aware of the consequences of tweeting that Pakistan was lying and deceitful and unworthy of the $33 billion given by the US over the last 15 years, but they have been swift. Pakistan has decided to review its relations with the US and is going to adopt a tougher stance than previously — though there is no detail on this as yet. There is to be no more acceptances of demands to ‘do more’ and any down-the-line policy towards the US is going to be led by ‘cooperation for cooperation’ and based on an assumption of equality.

This is not going to happen overnight and any changes in bilateral relations are going to be incremental and probably event-led. One consequence of the Twitter-storm is that it pushes Pakistan ever closer to China and Russia, and this at a time when there is a febrile political atmosphere as the election approaches. This is not the time to take an eye off the ball, and the government at all levels needs to be closely engaged with the detail of how this now tense standoff is to be resolved — if indeed it is. It is entirely possible that this is the new normal and becomes an exercise in managed instability by both sides. Much will hinge on the next drone strike, its consequences and location. Managing foreign policy via Twitter — not your finest hour, President Trump.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 3rd, 2018.

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