While his recent Asia tour may not have included India, it is a country that the current US President Donald Trump greatly admires and he has not tried to hide it. In June this year Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Donald Trump in Washington discussing a range of issues regarding US-India relations, stability of Afghanistan and the rest of South Asia etc. “The relationship between India and the United States has never been stronger, never been better,” Trump told reporters in the White House Rose Garden standing alongside Modi.
During the meeting, it became clear that the Trump administration supported India’s stance on Kashmir and both Modi and Trump agreed on solving the Afghanistan problem together. However, one of the key players of the South Asia region Pakistan was not directly mentioned even once, raising a question mark on what Trump’s foreign policy on Pakistan actually was.
In March 2016 prior to becoming president Trump told CNN,”Pakistan is a very, very vital problem and really vital country for us because they have a thing called nuclear weapons. They have to get a hold of their situation.”In November 2016 a transcript was released of a telephonic conversation between Trump and Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Trump told him that he felt like he was speaking to an old friend and called Pakistan “a fantastic country, fantastic place” and expressed his desire to visit the country. In response to that the Trump administration released its own version of the telephonic conversation about having a “productive conversation” and a “strong working relationship in the future”. This made one thing clear at the time that the Trump administration didn’t think on how to deal with Pakistan, one of Washington’s most complicated allies and a key player in the South Asia region.
In August, while speaking in front of US soldiers at Fort Myers in his first formal address to the nation as US president regarding his Afghanistan and South Asia policy, Trump directly accused Pakistan of harboring terrorists. He also reversed his decision of making US soldiers leave Afghanistan and instead emphasized on increasing troops in the 15-year long war. Pakistan did not take Trump’s words lightly and rejected the allegations. This was followed by protests in the country and Pakistan postponing acting Secretary of South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells’s visit to the country. China, one of Pakistan’s major allies came to the country’s defense as well and surprisingly even Russia came to Islamabad’s defense.
In October this year Pakistani troops launched a successful operation rescuing a Canadian-American couple. Donald Trump thanked Pakistan for its efforts in rescuing the family and hinted a positive relationship between Washington and Islamabad. On October 24, Rex Tillerson was the first senior official from the Trump administration to visit Pakistan meeting with Prime Minister ShahidKhaqanAbbasi, General QamarJavedBajwa and other top officials. While Tillerson repeated Trump’s statement on doing more, he also appreciated Pakistan for the sacrifices he made.
While a senior official from the Trump administration visiting means that having a positive relationship and working together with Pakistan is in the interest of the United States, it raises a question that still remains unanswered: will Trump ever visit Pakistan?
The former US President Barack Obama despite visiting the South Asia region twice never visited Pakistan during his tenure, but did make official visits to Afghanistan and India. A strained relationship especially after the raid on Osama Bin Laden in 2011 was one of the factors that contributed to Obama’s resistance to visit the country. The then-president George W.Bushlast visited Pakistan in 2006 during the era of then President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf.
The current US president is unpredictable and that has been proven so with every move he has made whether in his own country or internationally. It seems though that there is a huge chance that Donald Trump would consider visiting Pakistan, especially knowing how important the relationship with Pakistan is for a stable Afghanistan and South Asia in general. With Pakistan growing closer to China, Russia and Iran, any wrong move would be against Washington’s interests. Similarly, despite it’s complicated relationship with the United States, Pakistan should maintain it for a safer region. It should try to improve its relationship not just with the United States but with India and Afghanistan too and the two countries should return the favor instead of the governments just constantly blaming each other, because it simply puts the lives of the people in those countries at risk.
Trump despite being unpredictable is a businessman and he looks at world affairs not from the position of a global leader but as an entrepreneur. While Trump was highly critical of China, especially regarding its relations with North Korea and Beijing’s policy,he was quick to reverse his stance after his visit to the country.
With a huge number of U.S troops in Afghanistan and 2017 proving to be a deadly year for the country, it seems that Afghanistan is perhaps one of Trump administration’s major foreign problem and a stable South Asia can’t be achieved by bringing both Pakistan and India to the table, putting their differences aside.
Trump’s recent Asia tour might not have covered South Asia. But considering its stability and security being important for the current U.S administration it seems that Donald Trump might make a separate tour to South Asia in the near future discussing with leaders of the region not just terrorism, but also poverty, economy and a wide range of topics that might benefit both the South Asian countries and the United States. Even so, the South Asia tour might mostly concentrate on Pakistan, India and Afghanistan as was the case with Rex Tillerson’s visit to the region recently. There are chances that Donald Trump might consider visiting Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives as well for establishing a better and stronger relationship with all the countries in one of the world’s most dangerous and poorest regions.