President Trump’s tirade against Pakistan seems to be growing nastier by the day, and regardless of whether his utterances defy logic or whether or not he needs psychiatric help (Fire and Fury), the reality is that he is the United States (US) President and therefore must be taken seriously. Under the US Constitution the President holds vast powers and unlike the culture a home where a position’s descriptive definition may be deceptive, in the US the final authority invariably lies with the presidential office – once he decides to impose a travel ban (no matter how unfair and damaging it may be) or to shun free trade and adopt protectionism or to opt out of the Paris Accord on Environment (despite the US being the original champion of these causes), in the end his decision prevails. Point being that while anger and a sense of betrayal amongst Pakistanis are quite understandable the Pakistani government needs to tread carefully.
Like it or not, a reality check is necessary before adopting any gung-ho stance: 1) USA is still Pakistan’s largest market next to the European Union (EU). Further, anyone thinking that western developed countries works in isolation is sadly mistaken; in fact the underlying economic strength of the western world lies in its deep rooted inter-linkages and connectivity, be it be academia, consumer markets, corporations, financial centers or politics & foreign policy. Meaning, in essence the US and the EU operate in tandem and essentially come as a package; lose one and you are sure to lose the other. Combined, they account for nearly $10 billion of Pakistan’s export $2.2 billion of Pakistan’s home remittances; 2) All doors to global financial institutions like the IMF, Word Bank, etc. lead through the US and its allies; and 3) Last but not least, our dollar transactions require clearance from New York and any hiccups there could simply be disastrous for the smooth functioning of our economy. Not belittling China’s friendship or support to Pakistan in any way, but the stark reality is that at least for now it does not provide alternatives in shape of similar market access to our products (on the contrary we run a trade deficit of around $12 billion/annum with China) or corresponding access to our students at Chinese colleges & universities (in fact the reality is that it does not even possess academic institutions of the same caliber and its own students seek out western academic institutions to acquire cutting edge knowledge in most fields), nor does it provide equivalent space to our workforce in its corporations/factories (try getting a visa to China and you will realise how difficult it is) and lastly, the language, at least for now, tends to be a major barrier.
Also, it is important to understand where Mr. Trump is coming from. After all he is no security expert and given his original thinking from his election campaign, he actually wanted to pull out US troops from Afghanistan. So who is guiding him now to instead take a completely opposite direction, because obviously this U-turn neither reflects the popular will of the American people nor of his own political party, since already there is a strong dissent within the Republican camp on this new Afghan policy and his rhetoric against Pakistan – a policy they consider to be strategically flawed and doomed for failure. They opine that not only is the policy poorly crafted, but it also fails to capture Pakistan’s due role, without which a sustainable Afghan solution will always remain elusive – in short, no lessons have been learnt from the last 16 years.
Moreover, it is pertinent to note that the narrative on Afghanistan, which is driving Mr. Trump’s tweets, has been primarily prepared by a group of 3 retired Generals whose own objectivity is questionable owing to their quite dismal performance during service in Afghanistan and sadly, also due to a grave personal tragedy in case of one.
What is different though this time is that Mr. Trump’s direct attacks on Pakistan violate the moral code by portraying the ally as the enemy. Ever since the 60s, it is the first time that we practically find ourselves on the wrong side of the US foreign policy – the threats of ‘do more’ have been there for a long time, but the enemy status, if labeled, will certainly be the first. And it is this very possibility of reaching extreme positions that we need to diffuse – Firm stands and guarding one’s self interest do not necessarily require noise or hurling insults! To resolve the situation what is required is a comprehensive approach entailing dialogue (even if it is one-sided), patience (the longer it drags the more favorable it is for Pakistan), and a clear strategy outlining short-term and long-term measures with a process chart to achieve desired objectives.
Short-Term: First and foremost, our basic desire is to keep our friendship with the US intact should always remain and to demonstrate this will, the following would be advisable. There is a large presence of US Corporations in Pakistan (Abbott, Coca Cola, Pepsi, CPC, Colgate-Palmolive, etc.), which have expanded exponentially in recent years, thus showing their faith in our economy. The government should go that extra mile to assure them of its continued support and that their interests remain well protected in every way. This will not only be vital in cementing existing mutual economic linkages, but will also go a long way in projecting Pakistan as a mature and responsible country, promoting a soft image.
Resultant anti-American sentiments spurred by any political party, group or media should be strictly curbed.
Emphasis should be on letting the US know what Pakistan has to offer them, politically, militarily and economically, and not on what the US stands to lose by alienating Pakistan. This will prevent any ‘I said so’ notions (from anti-Pakistan lobby in the US) to gain credence in the American public. In fact this will be the most effective way of putting to shame all misconceived rhetoric on Pakistan’s genuine commitment to war on terror.
No good putting the US in an either-or situation vis-à-vis India. Our relevance in any case is of paramount importance in Central and South Asia regardless of the US relationship with India.
Work on bringing realism in mutual expectations by clearly (cum tangibly) articulating importance and necessity of Pakistan’s role in reaching a win-win solution in Afghanistan, but at the same time being mindful of the fact that projecting a non- supportive Pakistan will make it uninteresting for the US.
Use common friends like Saudi Arabia, China, Turkey, UK and the European Union to put across Pakistan’s point of view.
Mobilise Pakistani diaspora and Pakistan’s friends in the US for effective lobbying.
Long-Term: The objectives should focus on promoting academia linkages. Most Ivy campuses (including that of my Alma Mater) have an overriding Indian presence, which needs to be matched.
Encouraging Cross investments by providing space to US Corporations aspiring to access Pakistani market (Monsanto is one such case that comes to mind). Certainly not advocating here that we give them a free hand, but to work with them while ensuring our self-interest.
Pakistan is a huge market of 220 million people with perhaps the fastest growing middle class in the world, and has its own importance as an extremely lucrative consumption economy. Comparison to India in many ways is irrelevant. Use this leverage effectively.
Utilise Pakistan’s entrepreneurs effectively to promote economic linkages. For example, the way India formed the infamous London Club of leading Indian business houses, back in the early 2000s, which today has gone on to create a visible Indian footprint on the global corporate canvas.
And of course a no-brainer: Get Pak economy in order.
The writer is an entrepreneur and economic analyst.