Written By: Farrukh Khan Pitafi
Donald J. Trump’s victory took most of the world by surprise. Even on the election day exit polls were sure of a Hillary Clinton win. And when the realization dawned on the world, for a heart stopping moment it was pandemonium. Leaders of the NATO countries, the EU and other major international players all seemed simultaneously unnerved and in a haste to reach Trump. For a while it felt that just by winning an impossible election Trump had already delivered on the promise to make the world stop taking American power for granted. It took world leaders some time to reach and congratulate President-elect Trump. And then started another guessing game. Who would he appoint in his cabinet? Was he going to behave in the manner he promised on the campaign trail or that was merely the campaign rhetoric? The answer since then has been arriving in bits and pieces and the picture is far from finished yet.
Following Donald Trump’s candidature, just like the unorthodox and highly divisive 2016 Presidential election, has been an illuminating experience. The elections brought to the fore all the major elements at play. The good, the bad and the ugly all exploded on our television screens. We learned the intricacies, strengths, and weaknesses of the American election system. New trends, new thinking, new discourse, and new faces, all were so visible. Trump’s own campaign is accused of magnifying the worst in the American society. At one point in her campaign Hillary Clinton called half of Trump supporters a ‘basket of deplorables’. But a deeper look at Trump’s speeches reveals there was deep seated hurt and anguish among American working class over the erosion of jobs, uncertainty, and the threat of terrorism. Nuanced discussions on the election contest despite being there were widely ignored owing to the seemingly implausible nature of Trump’s bid. But that is history now. The question on everyone’s mind is what to expect from the President-elect’s term in office. And whether it is going to be as devastating as was suggested during the campaign. Here are few thoughts on that, but before that one crucial caveat. There still are many unknown unknowns in the situation, from probable cabinet picks to the possible recounts in three crucial states that while highly unlikely have a very distant but still possible chance of reversing Trump’s victory. Barring something dramatically improbable here is how things may shape up.
Back to the Drawing Board
Trump campaign promised to bulldoze everything that is taken for granted about America’s global role. From NATO and other allies footing the bill for their safety to challenging the conventional wisdom on nuclear non-proliferation, everything came under discussion. Commitments were made to bring back jobs from China to India to make America great again. It is crucial to note here that everything primarily focused on economic advantages for the American people. The second most important concern was to make America safe and secure against the threat of terrorism. A mix of both concerns played a vital role in stipulating a highly reactionary immigration policy. It was stated that Trump would deport 11 million illegal immigrants on his first day in office. Likewise, he also pledged a total freeze on Muslims entering United States for a period meant to examine the causes of radicalism in Muslim communities. Later under the growing outcry there was some let up and we were told that it applied to countries suffering from an extremist problem. Further still when the idea of extreme vetting was introduced the ban morphed into close monitoring.
Most of these comments were watered down as soon as it became clear Trump would be the next President of the United States. But at the time of writing of these lines Trump’s core team is taking shape. We have so far seen a mix of people from far right and the moderate establishment politicians visiting Trump Tower in New York for job interviews. Some of these names are heartening while the others are deeply disturbing. It will take a while for the fog of change to abate. But barring some staunch critics, the consensus is that Trump will settle for a less radical course of action. In either case his presidency will define the world order more robustly than any U.S. government in past many decades.
Nature of the World Order: Balance of Power Vs Interdependence:
The current world order is based on a diluted version of realpolitik. While great lip service is paid to the lofty ideals of collective security, the misapplication of the term has so far given rise to demons like international terrorism. Fortunately, technological advances and the growing economic strength of China in the past few decades has given rise to a shift towards a different world order. Chinese wisdom has led the emerging power to focus less on political squabbles around the world and more on its economic strength. Since a steady supply of raw materials and resources was a pivotal part of China’s economic plan, it has ushered in an era of interdependence. Despite a remarkable range divergence between the U.S. and Chinese worldviews, both countries are more economically interdependent than many care to admit. Despite Trump’s emphasis on turning the heat on China, his first pledge after being elected was to scrap the twelve nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. This decision practically puts an end to the so-called pivot to Asia, meant to contain China. Thus, Chinese sphere of influence within Asia is bound to increase. And ever such a pragmatic business Trump is expected to ensure this does not automatically translate into a disadvantage for his own country. Hence the author of “The Art of the Deal” is expected to find a common ground with China and work to rebuild his own nation while cutting its international liabilities. Despite the rhetoric suggesting intensifying trade wars, the Sino-U.S. are expected to strengthen.
Trump has already vowed to work with Russia to find a lasting solution in Syria bringing the bilateral hostilities down significantly. While a post-Brexit, post-Trump world looks fractured and disjointed now, if planned carefully it can open floodgates of new trends that will make interdependence a lasting reality. This should be music to our ears. With China and Pakistan already being dubbed as the iron brothers, improving Pakistan-Russia relations and strengthening democratic institutions in the country, Pakistan’s interest lies exactly opposite to India’s self-proclaimed role of a counter-weight to China. It is in our interest to function where two of our closest allies, China and America work in tandem and develop a culture of pragmatic trust. While mutual paranoia and distrust over South China Sea tiff have seen new levels, it is true that no one is better placed to resolve the dispute amicably than Trump. In such a situation, an India, that is rapidly losing its democratic and secular credentials owing to the hardening of the state and society under Modi rule will lose its key bargaining chip.
Hazards of Demonizing America
No country likes to be hated. Would we? The world’s most powerful nation so far has often been demonized. With a Trump win especially after a very uncanny and disruptive election campaign chances are the elements bent on demonizing America may find it more convenient to mischaracterize the country. But that is one thing we should avoid at every cost. In our country, the anti-American sentiment has already been very high of late. The trouble based primarily on normative concerns it impedes from a practical approach to strengthening the ties. Mainstream and social media have made it a deeply connected world and results of surveys to gauge anti-Americanism in any society are often cited in the U.S. capital. It is surprising how many times findings of similar kind have featured in U.S. Congressional hearings and media debates on Pakistan. Much time and energy has gone into the relationship over past half century for both countries to walk away from it. It is critical than that a frank and informed debate between the two partners and within each country takes place reducing the misunderstandings to the minimum. If anything, the relationship needs more investment from our side. And right now, owing to democratization and improving transparency in our country, a remarkable meltdown of democracy in India, our key detractor, and our improving economic condition and soft power we are in a unique position to transform our image abroad.
Pakistan-U.S. Relations – An Alliance that Needs to Grow
The relationship that started back in 1950s has been mutually very rewarding. Pakistan helped the U.S. defeat the red peril and America helped build our defensive capability. There have been years of hiatus in between but since the start of the struggle against terrorism both countries banded together. However, given that at the height of the war on terror India was at a much better position to mischaracterize Pakistan and sow the seeds of discord, it did so unabashedly. Also, since it was only a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, in the intervening period Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilization’ hypothesis having framed the next confrontation being between the West and Muslim world and China, India maximized its profits by quietly promoting such misplaced notions. Our own inability to present ourselves as functioning democracy also marginalized our capacity to become a relatable ally. Consequently, we sacrificed and India was showered with praise.
It is owing to Indian obstinacy matched by its soft power that there exists so much denial about the true efficacy of Pakistan-U.S. relations on both sides. Two minutes into any discussion on the relations and you are reminded by both sides that both countries have their own national interests. Yes, they do. Every country does. But such disclaimers seldom brought up for the art of diplomacy are meant to align the interests of nations. Now that India is bent on making a fool of itself under an RSS controlled government and Pakistan is growing into a viable economy we can overcome these challenges. Successful nations do not lose allies. They learn to make new friends without losing the old ones. So, should we? Pakistan needs to connect differently with U.S. now and with Trump’s victory a welcome opportunity has presented itself. We can jettison the baggage of past sixteen years and tell our story to the American people like we never could in the past.
What Pakistan Can Offer
Pakistan, for long, has been viewed through a security prism. Even today the discussions on Pakistan revolve around the country’s fight against terrorism, stability in Afghanistan, its nuclear program and its confrontation with India. While our nation was busy in an epic struggle against terrorism, Indian media and culture industry very successfully kept presenting Pakistan as a failing or failed nation with a teetering pile of nuclear weapons and radical elements on the loose. Trump campaign initially also inhaled this propaganda but since then has been gradually moving away from extreme positions. When Trump assumes the role of a president he will have better position to appreciate how much progress Pakistan has made in safeguarding its homeland and its arsenal in the past decade. Better understanding will lead to better relations. Interestingly while India kept highlighting that Pakistan had a Muslims radicalism problem it has developed a radical Hindu problem of its own which is far lethal than ours. We need to highlight now that while Pakistani state saw the challenge facing it in time and has continued to confront it, Indian state is so overwhelmed by its own problem that it hasn’t even identified it as a threat. Extremists in India do not just attack Muslims in the country but Christians and other minorities too and it must be monitored with alarm by the West.
But security issues are just one dimension of Pakistani story. The country is home to approximately 190 million people. With growing economic connectivity, it is bound to uncover more opportunities giving rise to a growing middle class and subsequently a growing market. Since we are nearing the goal of becoming a regional hub of trade, our economic appeal is about to grow all over the world. As a country with a youth bulge which they present as a demographic dividend in India, our appetite for quality education both here and abroad is also expected to grow. These opportunities are enough to make Pakistan stand out in international market. If somewhere down the lane we also manage to harness the untapped potential of Central Asian economies, an effort in which direction is already being made we can become a massive regional dynamic to reckon with.
But we can still diversify our portfolio. There is no dearth of intellectual capital in the country. A country that has witnessed a tumultuous ebb and flow of fortunes. With a story to tell, a vibrant culture, we can invest more in our culture and entertainment industry to project a better image internationally and profit from it. If we make our economy investor friendly and competitive we can attract investment and business that may help us bridge gaps between us and other countries. Just take the example of Trump enterprise. India has already tried to leverage these businesses there to seek better relations with Donald Trump. Our tourism, real estate and hospitality industries can offer unique opportunities. And that is just a start. Sky is truly the limit.
Tryst With Terror
Our struggle against terrorism is unique. No Muslim country until the post-Arab spring chaos in Arab world had seen so much tumult, moved so close to oblivion, and emerged stronger and more democratic other than Pakistan. This is a distinct advantage. While our struggle against terrorism is far from over, if lessons learned and the national action plan against terror are perfected into a coherent model we might be of great use to help deradicalize other societies.
Bilaterally, American politicians, especially of the Republican persuasion, have been very vocal about the Haqqani network and the Taliban. Now that they are about to take over administration it is crucial to work with them closely for better understanding. Improved transparency and trust in the relationship will not come automatically and concerted efforts will have to be made. But once made it will be on a stronger footing. It is crucial to remember that while America has inhaled too much Indian propaganda in the past, America is not India. Despite so much polarization in its society the fringe elements have remained on the fringe. While India talks a great deal about Pakistan’s alleged double game, its own double game in projecting itself as a counter-weight to China in the West and simultaneously trying to benefit from growing Chinese prosperity and role in the region will not continue for long. As Trump brings a muscular approach to solving problems his national security team is expected to be full of capable civil and military professionals with whom Pakistan can easily work. Both countries can find ways to address each other’s concerns while remaining realistic.
In conclusion, it must be noted that although it is true that Trump’s victory was highly unexpected but it offers an opportunity for a unique reset where Pakistan’s ardent critics may easily be converted into long term allies. Pakistan needs to suit up for hectic advocacy, work on identifying the common ground and meanwhile also work to put its house in order.
The writer is an Islamabad-based TV journalist and tweets @FarrukhKPitafi