IRSHAD SALIM (Nov 19, 2018): Emboldened by retaining Senate majority in the Congress as a result of the midterm elections–which means President Trump now has multiple U-turn cards to use for his foreign policy, security, and trade war strategies, he has now taken a shot-gun approach to address these matters–his deliveries continue to be predictable though for his friends, allies and foes alike across the Atlantic.
One cartridge back on the frontburner is Trump’s Sunday tirade against Pakistan vis-a-vis Afghanistan’s 17-year war and oscar-tangoing it to suit what he thinks may be in ‘America First’ best interest.
Prior to being elected, Trump has been outspoken about pulling out of Afghanistan, but then he took a U-turn on one condition: focus on converting the trillion dollar greenback spent on the unwinnable war to pay for his mega rebuild America’s trillion dollars infrastructure initiative–other gains notwithstanding.
A similar approach is also reflected in Trump’s narratives while advancing his Middle East, China, India and EU doctrine. He’s also striving to jumpstart his Indo-Pacific geostrategic-cum-geoeconomic initiative by developing the quartet (US-India-Japan-Australia) to counter growing Chinese influence. While the grouping would at best work around the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca, and to their east, Beijing’s China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) by many accounts outwits this strategy at work–lately Bangladesh is in the cross-hairs to be roped in Trump’s Indo-Pacific policy.
Pakistan therefore is the ‘bad guy’ in Trump’s scheme of things, specially for allowing Beijing the shortest, safe and most economical alternate to China’s oil shipping route–the cost of network of highways and rail routes being built from Gwadar to Khashgar (around US$12 billion not counting the funding of power projects) dwarfs in front of savings China would benefit, notwithstanding geostrategic advantages and benefits. In short, the features, advantages and benefits (FAB) of CPEC are heavily frontloaded to the detriment of Trump’s dollars and sense approach in the Afghan region. An experienced and battle-hardened Pakistan this time did not fall for the bamboozles. It has moved on.
For Trump, sensibility therefore in the short-term lies in bashing its (still) non-Nato ally Pakistan for having ‘made fool of the US’, and ‘betrayed’ America. And the best way to show the anger would be Trump to use buzzwords and narratives which could ring a bell on the Hill and in the Beltway specially the Senate where he enjoys majority vote now. By the way Husain Haqqani uses same tactics and buzzwords–that ring bells on the Hill and Beltway–in his broadsides against his country of birth and grooming, Pakistan. It’s another baseball field to play on and strike a homerun on his home turf (Washington DC) now.
So Trump this time around Thanksgiving (last time it was on the New Year day) pulled out Osama bin Laden card, and used the words “betrayal”, “fooling”, etc. again against Islamabad thought-leaaders. His Sunday interview with the Fox News channel and opening up again against America’s then only ally in the region during Cold War was kind of a “she was a bitch” approach where the other half is always at fault.
While his stated opinion may have been to remind Islamabad that he’s a tough guy to deal with (by now an open secret)–US still owes Pakistan nearly $800 million in payables. His actual gripe albeit position is that Pakistan has provided China a side-pass (geostrategic) and a heap of bitcoins (geoeconomic) to help become the numero uno economic power. Notwithstanding that Pakistan is building the network on loans from China which would be paid back from tolls, tariffs earned from it, the idea sucks for Trump—he can’t make an ‘apprentice’ out of this show.
So while I tend to call the CPEC actually the Pakistan China Economic Corridor (PCEC), nevertheless, it’s the fly in the ointment that Trump wishes to use to anoint the damages cost-wise and national interests-wise the US has so far suffered.
There’s a u-turn possible though, between Islamabad and Washington, to makeup for the bad marriage–it’s already showing in the broad contours of Afghan peace process, and “that bitch” has proved she was right though to begin with. “We’ll be just friends and not talk about the past, but can’t go any further than that, you know” I’ve heard this many times in Hollywood movies, TV and in reality.
Trump’s diner style talk on Pakistan on Sunday therefore doesn’t bother me also. His South Asia policy announced last year was the kiss of goodbye like the one in ‘Love Story’ and the ‘Pretty Woman’.
What would matter to me now is history: Bush Jr. sent boots on ground to win a war and make allies in the region. Obama withdrew troops while intending to stay in Afghanistan on the long haul. Trump seeks to dump allies, stay if possible even if the US looses goodwill in the region but manages to rake in billions as post-war revenue like elsewhere. Good neighborliness is all that matters to Pakistan though going forward. Islamabad has said, “Pakistan will ally with the US for peace, not war.” It’s in a different league now.
(The writer is a business & construction consultant, analyst, and Editor-in-Chief of PKonweb, DesPardes and BE2C2 Report and presently based in Islamabad)