Islamabad must prepare a strategy of dealing with the U.S. president-elect.
President-elect Donald Trump will become President Trump in January 2017. Before this happens, Pakistan must not only work out a strategy of working with his administration, but also the Republican-majority U.S. Congress. During the next 63 days, it might be tempting to look at the ongoing anti-Trump wave throughout the West—from Latin America to Europe and even the Muslim world in the Middle East—and consider Trump a lightweight. This is misleading. For Pakistan, it is time to be pragmatic. We cannot allow ourselves to draw false empowerment from this upsurge of popular hatred.
What weakens Pakistan in the dispassionate task of stocktaking is its Army-civilian polarization. This bifurcation delays Pakistan’s much-desired adoption of the Chinese worldview and makes it postpone the task of ending isolationism stoked by nationalism and ideology. Pakistan must become flexible in its foreign policy projections; and this flexibility must be measured against its weaknesses.
Pakistan’s foremost problem is terrorism, which the state can’t tackle because of its ambivalence toward its proxy warriors—whom the world sees as adjuncts of the Pakistan Army. Trump—based on his tweets and campaign rhetoric—will likely focus more sharply on what President Obama has been content to simply verbalize. Past White House spokespersons have been reiterating the same routine warnings with reference to at least three names associated with cross-border terrorism in India and Afghanistan. On this issue Trump will not find himself isolated internationally. He will take aggressive measures as he moves closer to India and seeks a wider opening to its market by offering the quid pro quo of punishing Pakistan.
Pakistani politicians will not help one another as they lean on the politics of mouthing India-centric slogans to please the Army enough to remove a prime minister suspected of pragmatism toward India. China is aware of Pakistan’s problem and wants it to change its India policy. But with Trump’s rise, Beijing might lose its leverage once again and see its projects threatened by disorder. This would be the worst possible scenario for Pakistan.