Those of us, like this scribe, living in Canada have a love-hate mind-set about our giant neighbour, south of the 49th Parallel separating the two largest countries of North America. This isn’t surprising, given that Canada has one-tenth the US population and is no patch on the American global military strength. The Canadians think, with disdain, of their southern neighbour being saddled with an imperfect and deeply-flawed political system, and nothing could’ve vouched for it more than the stunning victory of an ‘outsider’ and maverick Donald Trump in the November 8 presidential election. Trump has, indeed, trumped the well-entrenched American ‘establishment’ with his unexpected trouncing of the establishment- savvy Hillary Clinton. In the process he hasn’t only taken Washington by storm but also forced pundits and policy gurus in most world capitals to scurry to their drawing boards for an entirely fresh and unanticipated stab at how to deal with the White House’s new occupant who, through most of his rambunctious election campaign, swore to “drain the swamp” in Washington. Sending out of jobs Washington’s pampered establishment pundits wasn’t the only outrageous statement spewing from Trump’s lips. There was a plethora of other equally unorthodox pronouncements that forced friends and foes to take notice of the bull trying to crash into Washington’s chinashop. His infamous lines included a ‘total and complete ban’ on the entry of Muslims in US, giving the boot to millions of illegal immigrants, and building a wall all along the Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it.
Trump also pontificated about India and Pakistan. Conscious that ‘new Americans’ of South Asian provenance were into the US presidential race perhaps more actively than any other new entrants, he courted both Indian and Pakistani interest groups and lobbies; some of his sound- bytes and quips could be construed to mean that he intended, if elected, to play an active role in the South Asian context as someone deeply concerned about a region that was, in his words, a “very, very hot tinderbox”. Election rhetoric being what it is, Trump often profusely complimented both Indians and Pakistanis for their dedication to their new homeland. Only a few weeks before the D-Day, rubbing shoulders with the vibrant Indian diaspora in New Jersey, Trump regaled his audience by promising, if elected, to make US and India “the best of friends.” He assured his cheering Indian fans of a “phenomenal future” together and won more applause by adding,
“There isn’t going to be any relationship more important to us” than relations with India. Trump carried on with the same strain when he was interviewed by the Hindustan Times. He evinced interest in defusing the red-hot tension between India and Pakistan with these words. Well, I’d love to see Pakistan and India get along, because that’s a very, very hot tinderbox.” Throughout the acrimonious and intensely bitter campaign, Trump wasn’t known for making clear-cut or categorical statements on which he could be pinned down. He was, in fact, notorious for weaving in and out of contentious issues, zigzagging more often than not. However, on India-Pakistan equation — or lack of it — Trump was, surprisingly, clear, categorical and, for a welcome change, statesman-like. In the same interview with HT, Trump mentioned “the recent problem” in Kashmir that had so much exacerbated tension between India and Pakistan.
When asked by his interlocutor if he’d like to have a role in lowering the dangerously high temperature in South Asia, he said “if they wanted me to, I’d love to be the mediator or arbitrator” and went on to add, “If we could get India and Pakistan getting along, I’d be honoured to do that.” On another occasion, however, he seemed falling in line with the Obama stance that US would step in between the two ‘adversaries’ if both asked for it. So Indians have not to worry that Trump, if he still remembers his campaign rhetoric, would still be leaning on India to talk to Pakistan against its will. Campaign promises and commitments take little time, in any case, before melting into thin air. However, Pakistanis have much less room for optimism than their Indian counterparts of President Trump still being friendly, or well-disposed to them, notwithstanding his campaign antics during which he raised slogans of I Love Pakistan, raised in a gathering of his Pakistani-American ‘fans.’
The burden of office, it goes without saying, changes the man, and the greater the burden the quicker that happens. US-Pakistan relations, in the years since Pakistan joined the endless American war on terror, have had a number of angularities, with Washington often articulating its concerns, publicly, about Pakistan’s flirtation with its own terrorism. American policy makers, if not the leaders in Washington, have left little to doubt that they suspect Pakistan of playing on both sides of the street. Trust between the two old ‘allies,’ Pakistan and US has been in short supply for a long time. It nose-dived last May with an American drone killing a prominent Afghan Taliban leader on Pakistani soil. Trump may have, inadvertently, added to Pakistan’s angst about his policy stance, and style, when, in the heat of the campaign, he boasted that he could get Dr Shakil Afridi — a CIA mole sentenced to a 36-year prison term in Pakistan for blowing the cover of Osama bin Laden — in just “five-minutes” by hectoring the Pakistanis to let him go. Indians can relax about the Trump presidency because of the innate chemistry of affinity between the world’s two largest democracies ruling the roost in Trump’s Washington. Pakistanis, sadly, don’t have that luxury. They should be worried and keeping their fingers crossed, if not exactly being on tenterhooks.
Karamatullah K Ghori is a former Pakistani diplomat