NEW YORK: Eight years since the pledge to end the war in Afghanistan gave Pakistan a somewhat unwanted prominence in then-candidate Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, the election campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have barely featured mention of Pakistan.

In an interview with the Hindustan Times in October, Mr Trump claimed that he would “love to be the mediator or arbitrator” between India and Pakistan, but in typical contradictory fashion, he told a Republican Hindu Coalition event the same day that the US would be “best friends” with India under a Trump presidency.

Meanwhile, Ms Clinton has not made any comment of significance on Pakistan throughout her campaign. The combined silence of the candidates, however, may be something of a boon in a tumultuous election season, according to Pakistan analysts in the US.

“It’s very fortunate for Afghanistan and Pakistan to have been out of the campaigns because if they had become part of it, it would have been in a negative way,” Andrew Wilder, a vice president of Asia programmes at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), told Dawn. “This has not been a campaign about substantive policy issues.”

While Ms Clinton has a long public record, including as Secretary of State, the virtual absence of any mention of Pakistan in Mr Trump’s speeches has meant there is little clarity about where a Trump presidency may diverge from President Obama’s approach to Pakistan and in which areas continuity can be expected.

Examine: I am a Pakistani-American and Trump's rise threatens me

Mr Trump’s skeletal foreign policy and national security team and his often public contradictions of prominent advisers have further muddied the policy waters. “Trump is more dangerous than Clinton because you don’t really know what he’s thinking,” said Shuja Nawaz, author of the soon-to-be-updated Crossed Swords and a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council.

The most visible of Mr Trump’s national security advisers is a retired army general, Michael Flynn. Gen Flynn was director of the Defence Intelligence Agency until August 2014 and has triggered public concern among ex-colleagues and supporters for his enthusiastic embrace of some of Mr Trump’s signature, and most controversial policies.

However, according to Mr Nawaz, Gen Flynn is well acquainted with Pakistan and as director of the DIA had shown evidence of cross-border militancy to Pakistani officials in a bid to press the US administration about Pakistan’s perceived lack of action.

The move angered some of Gen Flynn’s colleagues in the intelligence community who believed that the DIA director’s overture to Pakistan may have exposed American intelligence-gathering methods. “Gen Flynn may be more likely to engage with Pakistan and likely may not be who his boss (Mr Trump) is, but ultimately it’s the boss’s decisions that matter,” Mr Nawaz said.

Relative to the fundamental uncertainty about what a Trump presidency could mean for Pakistan, a Clinton presidency’s policy outlines are easier to predict. “Clinton would likely be a basic continuation of Obama,” said George Perkovich, a vice president at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and co-author of Not War, Not Peace: Motivating Pakistan to Prevent Cross-Border Terrorism.

“Keep India and Indians as happy as we can. Keep an eye on China. And with Pakistan, simultaneously resist those in Congress who want to cut ties and aid to Pakistan because of the intel cooperation that [the US] needs, and at the same time be suspicious of the (Pakistani) military’s intentions in Afghanistan and work on lowering risk of (militancy) attacks in India,” Mr Perkovich explained.

Continuity itself could be an irritant, however, according to Mr Wilder, the vice president at USIP. “More broadly, because of the commitments the US has made in Afghanistan until 2020, Afghanistan is going to remain a priority for engagement,” he said of a possible Clinton presidency. “And because of that, US-Pak relations will likely remain an irritant.”

In the short term, Mr Wilder warned that the transition from the Obama presidency between the election next Tuesday and the swearing-in of the next president in January could open the door to political strife in neighbouring Afghanistan.

“The National Unity Government is held together largely by the US ambassador, the special representative (for AfPak) and Secretary of State Kerry. Once they’re gone and before a new team can settle in, something could happen in Afghanistan,” Mr Wilder said.

Published in Dawn, November 5th, 2016

Opinion

Editorial

Fleeting good news
Updated 03 Dec, 2022

Fleeting good news

Indeed, there is no other option to get out of the economic mess we have created in the last few years.
Battle for spoils
03 Dec, 2022

Battle for spoils

THE spectacle playing out inside a London courtroom shines a light on the struggle for control of the assets of the...
CM Bizenjo’s complaint
03 Dec, 2022

CM Bizenjo’s complaint

BALOCHISTAN Chief Minister Mir Abdul Qudoos Bizenjo’s claim that his province is facing a financial crunch due to ...
Wayward ideology
02 Dec, 2022

Wayward ideology

Anyone who claims his legacy for themselves should not treat his words so whimsically.
Progressive stance
02 Dec, 2022

Progressive stance

THE timing of two encouraging developments in the fight against domestic violence in Pakistan could not have been...
China Covid protests
02 Dec, 2022

China Covid protests

PUBLIC protests are rare in China where the People’s Republic maintains order through a strict authoritarian code...