Guest Lecture 13/06/2016
It appears that Americans are inevitably faced with a Trump / Clinton duel. One of the two could define international diplomacy in the coming years. President Obama leaves them a mixed legacy on foreign policy in general, and on the “AfPak” dossier in particular.
Obama’s results particularly in the “AfPak” region are mediocre, to Say the least, The Taliban have not been defeated, and they are now able to strike at the centre of power in Kabul with impunity. However Obama did avoid civil war between supporters of Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah in the contested presidential election and he has not abandoned the country. He was right to support China-Pakistan in their diplomatic efforts to launch a peace process in Afghanistan. But in his last State of the Union speech, he expressed pessimism, saying that Kabul and Islamabad would experience instability in the coming decades, in an admission of failure in this region and a difficult legacy for the next president.
But what might Af-Pak policy look like under a future President Trump?
While following his campaign from afar, one might think that Donald Trump is surrounded by the best experts on South Asia. Bur in fact, after the terrible attacks in Lahore, he was the only candidate who said that he “alone” could solve the problem of terrorism in Pakistan.
Analysts familiar with the region know that the security developments in the two countries are intertwined, for better or for worse. However, when we analyse candidate Trump’s statements, on Afghanistan in particular, we find no trace of a miracle solution for the “AfPak” region. In fact, there is, at first glance, some confusion, resulting from a mixture of common sense and a lack of knowledge of the dossier.
It appears that for several years now Trump has believed that the, Military presence in Afghanistan was a mistake. But he has frequently gone back on such statements„ saying that in fact he supported the War in Afghanistan in October 2001. He has added that maintaining a limited number of men on the spot was necessary because Kabul could totally collapse without US help – an extreme – but valid approach. But the second reason he gives, which is to secure Pakistan’s nuclear bombs, is less valid. He has been very clear on the subject, and without the existence of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, his position would probably be totally different;
This is a relatively dangerous and simplistic choice of priorities„ since the Pakistani army is a professional force, Pakistan is not Afghanistan, and the Pakistani state and ‘the military can, without US’ help, ensure the safety of their nuclear weapons. On the other hand, Afghanistan has not progressed satisfactorily in terms of security and development (beyond a small Afghan elite in Kabul and foreign consultants who have grown rich) largely because the Americans since 2002, have never made it their priority., Maintaining interest in Afghanistan merely to be able to “secure” the Pakistani bomb, in other words, to be able to fly over and place it under US control, is not the way America should be giving the Afghan problem the attention it deserves.
Yet Donald Trump seemed to comprehend that “AfPak” needs attention, He has criticised Bush’s decision to attack Iraq in 2003 rather than continue the work that was at hand in Afghanistan. But his Complete view of the AfPak region shows that Afghans themselves are-entirely secondary in his analysis, which is dominated by the fact that he considers Pakistan a potential enemy. This last point was confirmed in his statement on April 28, 2016, when Trump said that to manage Pakistan, a country he considers as “semi-volatile” (a curious notion in itself), it might be useful to use India. In the event of an election victory, therefore, he openly invited. New Delhi to intervene in the internal affairs of its neighbour and geopolitical rival, a perfect recipe for sparking a new Indo-Pakistani war.
It is true that these are only words,, and candidate Trump and President Trump may well turn out to be two different people.. This was the case with Bush, and also,, to some extent, with Obama. Still, discourse, even during a campaign, has significance, and in this instance, it is not reassuring for the future of “AfPak”.
The problem may be that his team in charge of foreign policy is not really up to the mark. But, as recent history has proved, entourage is even more important than words. After all, if anyone were to have conscientiously analysed W. Bush’s entourage in 2001, they might have been concerned to discover the presence of Cheney and Rumsfeld both hawks and former foes of his father, so close to power.
Of course, a surprise cannot be ruled out. Donald Trump is right when he says: “Look at the mess we’re in with all these experts that we have. Look at the mess. Look at the Middle East. If our presidents and our’ politicians went on vacation for 365 days a year and went to the beach, we’d be in much better shape right now in the Middle East” This makes good sense. No doubt the same could be said of South Asia, over the past two or three decades. So maybe a non-conformist knows better. But again, his words and his entourage do not leave much scope for optimism.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.