Deep Challenges for Trump In The Region

The ground realities in the region demonstrate that the US President-elect, Donald Trump, would have limited options while reviewing foreign policy amid growing complexities around stabilising Afghanistan and Middle East. Managing ties with Islamabad and New Delhi is also complicating the regional situation for Washington.

With the stunning result of the presidential election on November 8 in the US, Trump’s victory surprised majority around the world. This was also a shift of power from Democratic Party to Republican. The two often differ at the foreign policies of the country. The unexpected result of the elections triggered speculations about Trump’s future priorities in the region and the world. His country has been facing policy issues in the region for long and the US, a country with an abundance of talented policymakers and experts, have to tackle it now.

Almost daily, Trump is getting briefings from experienced officials on a complex situation around the US, especially difficulties in the region. The stabilisation of Afghanistan and Iraq-Syria region, where the US engagement is prolonging more than it was expected, are the first of challenges that the Trump Administration would have to tackle at the foreign front after January, when power would be formally handed over to him. In Afghanistan and the Middle East, the US is facing dilemmas of strategic and tactical goals that is a hurdle in coordinating efforts with its regional allies and players.

Washington needs regional players like Turkey and Iran for the Middle East, and Pakistan, India, Iran, China for Afghanistan. A significant circle in the US believes that their country’s engagements in the two regions were prolonged due to the dissimilarity of the tactical goals among the players.

In the case of the Middle East, Turkey is sharing strategic goals with the US to defeat terrorism/Daesh but seriously differ which at the tactical level. Turkey is targeting Kurdish fighters while the US needs them at the moment. The tactical differences between Iran and Turkey are feared to destabilise Iraq and further promote militancy as well, though IS is on retreat.

The US new administration has to confront Russia as a strategic competitor in the Middle East. Russia is allegedly making attempt to influence Washington and its policy on Ukraine and therefore wants to enhance its bargaining position by involving itself in the Middle East. Same is true for Afghanistan, where regional players including Iran, Pakistan, India and China have differences at the tactical level. They even sometime differ with the US approach, though their strategic goals aim at stabilisation of Afghanistan. The bashing games among India, Pakistan and Afghanistan are considered as differences between the US and local players’ approaches in Washington.

Then the US strategies are contradictory in themselves too. Washington influenced Islamabad for help in launching Kabul-Afghan Taliban talks last year and was asking the same this year. But soon after Pakistan’s engagement, the US ignored Islamabad’s concern over targeting Taliban’s Chief Mullah Akhtar Mansoor. The list of instances of contradictions in the approaches is long enough.

The US headache in the region doesn’t end here. The biggest challenge for the US in South Asia is serving its interests through its difficult but separate ties with India and Pakistan, the South Asian neighbours with strong historical rivalry. The Nuclear-armed Pakistan and India are concerned about each other’s alliances as well. Despite assurances, Islamabad naturally feels to be at the disadvantage in any such arrangement, believed to promote destabilisation in the region. Washington associates two different sets of interests to be served through its ties with India and Pakistan.

Pakistan is important for the US for countering terrorism, stabilising Afghanistan, consolidating its position in Central Asia. In Central Asia the US companies have already started operations. Pakistan, the long-standing ally of the US, is also important for Washington due to its strategic location and its future importance for enhancing regional trade.

But at the same time, the US needs close ties with India for containing China’s rapidly growing influence in Asia-Pacific as well as Indian Ocean and as a trade partner. Beijing’s engagement with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and others and its ports agreements with the regional countries have worried both India and America.

India being the biggest importer of defence equipments, and larger market, suits to the US, the world’s top defence equipment exporter. The US-India defence deal in August is a manifestation of growing ties both for trade and containing China. Developments like the US-India nuclear deal in 2008 and Washington support to New Delhi over membership of Nuclear Supplier Group have already upset Pakistan.

Despite acknowledgment of Pakistan’s important role in war on terror and the sacrifices it rendered, Washington has some concerns about Islamabad. It accuses the latter of not doing more against Haqqani Network, charges Pakistan strongly refutes. The increasing Indian involvement in Afghanistan with the support of the US has further aggrieved Pakistan. The factors contributed to put Pak-US ties at low ebb. The recent postponement of F-16’s deal between the two countries and halt to military assistance by the US to Pakistan are well known facts.

To tackle the awkward situation, the US has no option but to wish for resolving issues between Pakistan and India in its own interest. America’s this desire suits the regional powers like China, which needs stability in the region for realising its dreams of development and strong economy.

Beijing influence on trade route like Strait of Hormuz benefits Pakistan economically and strategically, while for India Chinese influence is a challenge.

Last month, Trump had said that if elected, he would like to mediate between India and Pakistan if both countries asked him to do so. The offer was welcomed by Pakistan as well. The complex situation in the region demands well thought out strategy from the US, although its foreign policy is not being expected to change drastically.

Of course, one can expect some mature decisions from the world’s most influential country. What would be the strategy of Trump for dealing with the issues important for the US in South Asia, Central Asia, and Middle East? Would he be able to bring peace and harmony? How rapidly he would eradicate terrorism? Let us wait and see till January when the new President would see the world from the White House.

The author Imdad Hussain is the Research Fellow of Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS). This article originally appeared in The Express Tribune, November 18, 2016. Original Link.

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