Pak-U.S. Relations in Emerging Dynamics

Written By: Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal

Donald Trump has been elected as the 45th President of the United States on November 8, 2016. The triumph of Trump was unexpected for many analysts and thereby they avowed it ‘a great upset of electoral politics.’ Conversely, for many his triumph was likely due to a few trends in the United States domestic politics. Hillary Clinton was a popular presidential candidate, yet with many handicaps. Indeed, the constituents voted for a change, which they consider imperative for their betterment. Therefore, the revamp in Washington’s internal and external affairs is plausible. Whether Trump Administration realizes the dreams of the Americans or not, is a lesser concern for other nations. The allies, partners and above all strategic competitors are more concerned about the foreign policy of Trump Administration.

During the campaign, candidate Trump paid little attention to foreign policy. Moreover, he took several, sometimes contradictory, positions on the few issues that he addressed during his election speeches. His slogan “Make America Great Again,” contradicts his opinion that ‘the problems in Europe, Asia, NATO, and Syria, are for others to worry about.’ Though Trump Administration’s foreign policy would be the continuity of its domestic policies, yet drastic changes in the United States external affairs are not expected. It’s because Washington’s foreign policy is based on issues, not personalities. The literature on foreign policy analysis, however, confirms the role of individual/personality in both chalking out and execution of foreign policy. Hence, the pertinent question is; ‘what would President Trump do?’


pakusrelin.jpgToday, the two interlinked important questions for the Pakistani ruling elite are that what would be the foreign policy of Trump Administration? How would it shape Islamabad and Washington’s relations? Perhaps, it is too soon to make precise predictions about the Trump Administration’s approach towards Pakistan. For the sake of adequate analysis, the following discussion is divided into two sections. The first section precisely underscores the factors that contributed in Trump’s triumph. The understanding of these factors seems significant for professing about Trump Administration’s worldview in general and relations with Pakistan in particular. It is followed by forethought on Pakistan and United States bilateral relations.

Trump’s Triumph
According to election results, Hillary Clinton received 228 electoral votes (60,827,933 votes—47.8%) and Donald Trump got 290 (60,261,913 votes—47.3%). The winning candidate required minimum 270. Hence, Trump won the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Interestingly, he secured majority electoral vote in spite of “characterizing Mexican immigrants as criminals, doubting the allegiances of Muslim-Americans, denigrating women and emboldening white supremacists” during his election campaign. Many analysts expressed their doubts about his victory prior to the polling day (November 8, 2016) because they were convinced that in the American society a leader who publicizes segregation and xenophobia enjoys very limited support. Moreover, they were overwhelmed by Clinton’s popularity.

Trump’s slogans ‘Make America Great Again’ and ‘Take Back Your Country’ certainly, were very attractive for both nationalists as well as jobless Americans. He outflanked his rival by moving decisively to the left on economic issues and also succeeded in painting Hillary Clinton as the agent of the rich and uncaring American elite. In addition, many other factors contributed in Donald Trump’s triumph in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Since the very beginning of 2016 Presidential campaign Hillary Clinton was encountering the email controversy. She made the mistake of using a private e-mail server while she was U.S. Secretary of State. She failed to settle this issue prior to her announcement as a presidential candidate. Consequently, James Comey’s (FBI Director’s) unprecedented decision to restart the e-mail investigation ten days before the vote, contributed significantly in ruining her bid to become the first female President of the United States. Perhaps, Comey’s bombshell had a decisive effect at a time when Mrs. Clinton was hoping to win the election. It refreshed the memories of those who believe that she could act insouciantly or irresponsible in the national security matters.

Secondly, Mrs. Clinton’s supporters wrongly expected too much from Barack Obama’s coalition of the suburban women, young adults, Black and Hispanic voters. According to exit polls, ‘one-third of Hispanic men voted for Trump despite his vow to build a wall on the Mexican border’. It seems that she also failed to muster the support of women. In addition, voter turnout manifests that Democrats either did not participate wholeheartedly or they rejected Clinton. For instance, according to reports she received 5–6 million votes less than President Barack Obama in 2012.

Thirdly, Mr. Trump successfully exploited the issues of a common man in the U.S., i.e., lost jobs, lost wages and lost stature. He severely criticized her policies as the Secretary of State. He often stated; “This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction and weakness.” He intelligently used American nationalism to muster the support of the jobless, especially those who wanted their jobs back. In his election campaign speeches, he promised to terminate all the trade agreements that damaged the U.S. industry and left Americans jobless and assured to throw out illegal immigrants.

Fourthly, candidate Trump insisted that the NATO allies would pay their security bills. He also opined that instead of spending on the security of Japan, South Korea and other allies, U.S. needed to spend at home, ‘to fix’ America’s problems. In this context, he suggested that South Korea and Japan should develop their own nuclear weapons. In the words of Professor Scott Sagan: “These kinds of statements are having an effect. A number of political leaders, mostly from the very conservative sides of the parties, are openly calling for nuclear weapons.” The common man in the United States seems less cognizant of the advantages which United States reap from Euro-Atlantic alliance and by providing security umbrella to Japan and South Korea. Therefore, his isolationist approach towards Europeans and Asian allies and reconciliatory approach towards the Russian Federation had a positive impact on many electors.

Fifthly, candidate Clinton was viewed as an agent of continuity, whereas, common Americans were aspiring for change. They were not in favor of status quo due to several policies of Obama Administration. That’s why they preferred an inexperienced Presidential candidate, Donald Trump, over the experienced candidate Hillary Clinton. Despite the fact that the latter forcefully highlighted throughout her campaign that she had a vast experience of governance. Many analysts have been interpreting the defeat of Hillary as a revolt against the establishment. The critics opined that United States is a ‘Republic’ instead of ‘Dynasty’ and thereby dynastic politics were not acceptable in a participatory political culture. The defeat of Hillary Clinton manifests that American voters were not eager to support the dynasties in American politics.

Although, theoretically, the projects such as building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border; imposing severe curbs on immigration from Muslim countries; dismantling Obama-care; rewriting major trade deals; ramping up the fight against alleged Islamist militants, etc., seem feasible yet practically realizing them is a hard task. Moreover, his promise to adopt Mercantilist approach, which ensures protectionist barriers and punitive duties on imports to uplift the American industrial units, sounds rational but such an approach also has its own intrinsic adverse fallouts for the national economy.

The Trump Administration would be in an advantageous position due the Republican majority in both houses of the Congress i.e., the Senate and the House of Representatives. Thanks to the Republican majority, President Trump would be able to carry out his reform agenda through legislative power. Perhaps, he would sincerely focus on reforms for accomplishing his election manifesto to win the Presidential election in 2022.

Trump Administration and Pakistan
For decades, Pakistan has been a beneficiary of the U.S. aid, which the latter has always used as a strategic lever to pursue its global strategic pursuits. During the Cold War, for instance, assistance was provided to Pakistan as part of the former Soviet Union containment strategy. Presently, Islamabad is receiving U.S. aid due to its relevance in U.S. strategy to win the war on terror. Hence, the engagement between Islamabad and Washington would continue due to the ongoing war against terrorism and U.S. presence in Afghanistan. However, the situation would be different if Trump decides to pull out of Afghanistan.

Donald Trump is a Republican. Historically, Republicans have maintained a soft corner for Pakistan. Republican Presidents such as Nixon, Reagan, senior Bush and his son were closer to Pakistani establishment, not because of ideology but due to strategic developments in the neighbourhood of Pakistan. Realistically, they provided aid to Pakistan for the sake of U.S. national interest and kept a distance, when they felt that assisting Pakistan diplomatically and economically was not in their national interest. For instance, in 1971 Nixon Administration did not stop India from forcibly dismembering Pakistan. Similarly, after the withdrawal of Soviets from Afghanistan, President H.W. Bush, immediately imposed Pressler Amendment sanctions on Pakistan. Importantly, his predecessor President Reagan ignored Pakistan’s cold test of nuclear weapons in March 1983 because he needed Pakistan to end the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan.

The prevalent strategic environment is completely different. Trump acknowledged India as a ‘geopolitical ally’. Moreover, since the beginning of the twenty-first century, Republicans have been treating India as an important ally in Asia. Therefore, expecting inclination of the Republicans towards Pakistan in the prevalent global strategic environment would be an error of judgement. Donald Trump’s election speeches and trends in the American South Asian policy indicated that the new American administration would sustain Obama Administration’s Indo-U.S. strategic partnership and encourage New Delhi to increase its presence in the Indian Ocean. Trump Administration would facilitate New Delhi in purchasing American military hardware for supporting United States military industrial complex and also checking China in the Asia-Pacific.

Pakistan’s cementing strategic partnership with China would undoubtedly be unacceptable for Trump Administration. Therefore, it would incessantly reiterate the Obama Administration’s mantra of ‘Do More’ in case of eliminating the menace of terrorist organizations; pressurize Pakistan for capping its nuclear program, maintain explicit neutrality and implicit opposition to Islamabad’s entry into the voluntary technological cartels, i.e., Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, Wassenaar Arrangement, and Australia Group.

The military buildup of India is acceptable for United States in the current global strategic environment. Therefore, Trump Administration would have an affirmative approach towards India’s armed forces modernization and entry into technological cartels. Indeed, the Indian armed forces advancement would be perilous for the national security of Pakistan. It necessitates matching responses from Islamabad. The counter-measures for solidifying Pakistan’s defensive shield is likely to magnify arms race between the South Asian belligerent neighbours. Thus, Trump administration courting with India would neither be in the interest of Pakistan nor have constructive consequences for the South Asian strategic stability.

To conclude, our policy makers need to be more realistic in charting out a strategy to engage Trump Administration after January 20, 2017.


The writer is Associate Professor at School of Politics and International Relations at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

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