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Lack of US election focus on Pakistan termed a boon

Updated Nov 05, 2016 09:53am


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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


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Comments (27) Closed

Nazir Nov 05, 2016 08:15am

Usa talk about india and china....

ABCD Nov 05, 2016 08:16am

Good analysis but what is clearly seen is, there will be always a love and hate relationship with Pakistan irrespective of who ever is coming to power.

pakistani Nov 05, 2016 08:27am

US will not listen to India's consistent complains about pakistan anymore.

Zak Nov 05, 2016 08:28am

US cannot ignore us , if they do it is at their own peril.

Hareem Nov 05, 2016 08:38am

We really believe that the Americans are all the time talking about Pakistan... actually they don't even know where is Pakistan, they don't care, they don't mind, nobody mention it... it is just a part in the night TV news.

Sunnyboy1 Nov 05, 2016 08:39am

Pakistan has made itself insignificant in international forums. Pakistan is located on such a strategic location but instead of taking advantage of it's location, it has created problems with all of it's neighbors and India took advantage of it.

quiteobserver Nov 05, 2016 08:57am

Well, given the quality of the US election this year I don't think ANY real issues were discussed..

Raja Nov 05, 2016 09:20am

We don't care and we don't need any more USA.

Hope. Nov 05, 2016 09:55am

@Zak What's wrong with you, insecurity is a terrible thing? Can any major country ignore an Atomic Pakistan with regional influence? Its not how Americans perceive Pakistan but how the later stay firm on its principals and ground realities. Its give and take, USA will always need Pakistani assistance in the region, and Pakistan needs American weapons. China being in Pak corner makes a big difference too. So you know till very recently Pak was darling of the west and then things changed, Let India buy Americans weapons BUT when they will ask for spare parts American demand will be listen to them and follow there policy or else, and there goes India's so called pride.

Maher USA Nov 05, 2016 10:21am

You know waht! Election bla bla is something totally different from reality! Drama ends Nov 8. Relax & watch games. My pay check is all I care about.

Ahmed bin Babar Nov 05, 2016 10:39am

Come and interfere into our internal national issues & policies is not and should not be the theme of US national presidential elections...

wAJIH UDDIN qIDWAI Nov 05, 2016 10:48am

No matter who comes into the power, Do more from Pakistan will remain their top priority and Pakistan will have to deliver it

wAJIH UDDIN qIDWAI Nov 05, 2016 10:50am

@pakistani Size does matter. India is one of the biggest market and attraction for the countries like US. Every country safeguard their own interest first, so does US.

lafanga Nov 05, 2016 12:06pm

I think under the leadership of Hillary Clinton, Kashmir will get Independence

true minds Nov 05, 2016 01:05pm

If it is topic to be happy that name doesnt mentions,then its biggest worry.People only neglect to whome who lost the importance.

M.Saeed Nov 05, 2016 01:58pm

Rapidly U-turning Trump would be a natural team with his equally prolific U-turner politician Imran khan of Pakistan, if he wins 2018 or earlier elections, under any untoward eventuality.

Fayzee Nov 05, 2016 02:11pm

Pakistanis don't need to worry about Trump's victory. I think he would be better than Clinton for Pakistan. At least, he is what he says, not like Clinton, who does not say but act against Pakistan, like Obama.

Imtiaz Nov 05, 2016 02:44pm

Trump will be bad for Pakistan while Clinton will be worse. Either way its a tough road ahead.

M.Saeed Nov 05, 2016 03:02pm

The Pakistani American Khizr Khan's blasting attack on Trump and Huma Abedin, daughter of a Pakistani-American mother and Clinton's most trusted aide's recent email related episodes are two incidents having vast implications in the US Presidential elections.

M.Saeed Nov 05, 2016 06:36pm

@Imtiaz You need to study the background well about the Clinton's Pakistan connection. In 1998, President Clinton had visited Islamabad just a few months before end of his term in White House, just to ensure success of Hilary's interest in Pakistan.

American Raja Nov 05, 2016 08:05pm

Pak & Afgan are not prominent in this election because both Trump & Hillary had skeletons in their closets,which kept coming out.infact they are still coming out three days prior to election.

Skeptic Nov 05, 2016 09:14pm

Neither Trump nor Hillary but establishment matters. Bush was a republican, Obama was a democrat. We did not see any difference. Let's see who wins. I do not think if Trump's win can be worrisome for Pakistan. Although, it is ominous for Muslims of USA!

Sami Shahid Nov 05, 2016 10:47pm

Pakistan should not may much importance to USA....instead it should support UK , RUSSIA AND CHINA.

rafee Nov 06, 2016 12:48am

@Maher USA whether be relax or confused, we get only what we do

sheikh Babar Kheli Nov 06, 2016 01:05am

Good News !! Any way it will talk before 2017.

A Shah Nov 06, 2016 04:29pm

This is so bad that ignoring us is the best thing we can hope for.

Riaz Nov 07, 2016 09:18am

Who cares about USA! We should not worry who comes to power, we need to focus on what is happening in our own country. Sooner we move away from these colonialists the better. Look what is happening in Philippines...ardent US supporters want also to break away from these unreliable partners.