musings

A Disaster Called Trump

By: Humayun Gauhar
Published: December 1, 2017
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Dear America,

Instead of writing about Pakistani politics, in which change happens everyday reinforcing uncertainty, I will write about you instead, where, thanks to a disaster called Trump, things change every week also riving America in uncertainty.

In addition, there’s the fraying Pakistan-America relationship, the Middle East, Iran, India, North Korea, Brexit and Ireland and what it might portend for the EU, Mexico and the wall, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, climate change and the melting Arctic ice cap. Some afar places are afire; others are tinderboxes waiting for a flame. And you cannot even douse the California fires!

The latest disaster: Trump’s brazen recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital! It seems the guy is spoiling for setting the world on fire. Since when have other countries started deciding which the capital of another country will be? Until the creation of a viable Palestinian state of which East Jerusalem is the capital, this decision is not only an affront to humanity’s conscience, for it destroys any chance of a peace agreement or a two-state solution – this is also an affront to the Christian conscience. Trump could do so with impunity, because he knows that Muslim states and the OIC are so impotent that their leaders will only make bombastic speeches and try and quell rioting in their own countries.

For starters, those Muslim states that recognise Israel should begin by de-recognising it. Turkey can lead the way. There will be demands by Muslim people to distance themselves from America to the maximum. Hardly any country in the world has applauded the US for this decision. Jerusalem is a holy site to all three major world religions and should be a neutral, universal city under UN auspices.

We admire you Americans for, by and large, you are a successful people. Pity that we are fast losing admiration for your government. We would rather hold back our admiration for US governments until they deserve it, though I’m not sure they necessarily want it, so consumed are they by hubris.

One-way love never does. Mutual respect is important if we are to achieve understanding in which there is something in it for everyone. We should strive to reach an agreed minimum platform of action that is good for all sides. If only one country demands respect without respecting the concerns of the other, we soon reach deadlock whilst maintaining the charade of diplomacy. What is debatably good for America is not necessarily good for Pakistan.

What I say here is based on the assumption that Pakistan and the US wish to normalise their relations and bring it back to where it was before Trump got Pakistan’s hackles up with his unfortunate August 11 speech, in which he scape-goated Pakistan over US failures in Afghanistan. Scape-goating is the oldest game in the book and everyone else also plays it. Given how much Pakistan has suffered so grievously, and made more human and material sacrifices in this demented ‘war on terrorism’ than anyone, it was unfortunate that Trump sounded like an Indian/Afghan mouthpiece.

I feel sorry for US officials. They are educated and intelligent people, with loads of experience that is being wasted because they are perpetually having to firefight and do damage control caused by their bosses who, I dare say, don’t listen to sensible advice. This can be frustrating and demoralising.

We tell American officialdom that ‘the ball is in your court’ since Trump was the one who first set the cat amongst the pigeons by scape-goating Pakistan. In fact, he hit it out of the court. It is lost. Now it is incumbent upon us to find a new, better ball by resetting our relationship. A good Pakistan-America understanding is an imperative because both countries need one another.

The release of the five American captives from Afghan Taliban custody could have been an opening. But Trump, possibly because he couldn’t help himself, said that it shows that now Pakistan has started taking America seriously. What? Started taking American threats seriously? That we did it out of fright? You might think we are overreacting, but a few days later the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley’s statement that America should ask India to keep an eye on Pakistan ruined everything, a statement she repeated in Delhi. I came to the conclusion that we will have to wait for the next US presidency for us or anyone to take America seriously.

For our part, our foreign minister made matters worse with his speech in Parliament in which he let it be known that Pakistan had given a piece of its mind to America. Like Trump, the speech was meant for a Pakistani audience, but it would not have been well received in Washington. The problem for both of us is that we have people holding sensitive offices who don’t understand their briefs and shoot their mouths off like verbal machine guns.

I have also come to realise that America doesn’t like to be reminded of history. That is escapist. It needs to understand that the present is made in history’s kitchen. Unless we respect history, we will never understand the present let alone craft a better future. We ignore history at our peril. Don’t let ‘historians’ rewrite a different history to justify a bad present. We cannot undo history, but we can certainly learn not to repeat it.

One of history’s most important lessons is: don’t get trapped in hubris. You cannot forget that Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden were initially your creations and it was their later mishandling that gave them cause to morph from freedom fighters against Soviet occupation to terrorists, who to many are still freedom fighters against NATO occupation.

To be so bothered about Pakistan’s nuclear programme is also to forget history and its causes: that Pakistan’s nuclear programme was a defensive reaction to India’s nuclear tests of 1974 and later May 1998. The race gathers momentum of its own, as each country tries to keep ahead with enhanced nuclear and missile technologies. Now the bogey is that our nuclear arsenal will fall into the ‘wrong’ hands, i.e. into extremist hands, though America knows better than most how advanced our command and control mechanism is.

And for all our shortcomings, we are still not so short of confidence as to drop nuclear weapons on human populations willy nilly because we know the consequences will lead to massive global destruction. The best and perhaps only way to allay this concern is to admit Pakistan into the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group. And if India has to be made a member of the UN Security Council, so should Pakistan as the only Muslim country in it.

A lot of the fires and damage are caused by US President Donald Trump needlessly making unconsidered statements, tweets and speeches often written by people who have little understanding or sensitivity to the real world and what makes it tick. Trump offends someone inside or outside his country and then some of the geniuses he has surrounded himself with make matters worse by spewing more nonsense.

US bureaucrats perpetually run hither and yon like headless chicken to not only find themselves on the same spot but far behind from where they started, because of Trump’s suicidal tendencies. Trump’s recent and embarrassing reference to Pocahontas before a group of Native Americans springs to mind as a case in point. Then there is his re-tweet of anti-Muslim videos, this time getting Britain’s hackles up.

If there is a method in this madness, please tell me what it is. To assert that Pakistan is solely responsible for America’s failures in Afghanistan, forgetting your own poor strategies and failures of your own satrap Afghan governments, is to deny reality. Has Pakistan advanced so much as to cause the most powerful country in history so much grief? But the world according to Trump says we have. Anyone in his right mind knows that we cannot. But they also know that they cannot make us change our policies, real or imaginary, through threats.

Have US threats made Kim Jong-un pause? Why, only a few days ago he set off an ICBM and made a laughing stock of his detractors. Do you think others are not looking at how successful he has been at not taking Trump’s threats seriously? If you cannot make Pakistan come to heel, how can you make Iran or North Korea or anyone else? Threats don’t do it; working together and understanding each other’s concerns do. We have to talk with, not at, one another. A global war changes the global status quo. Maybe that’s what Trump is after, but there’s no gainsaying that America won’t come out of it worse.

All this is not to say that Pakistan smells of roses. Far from it. We have played our part in making the mess, taking wrong turns, adopting wrong strategies, like enabling the Afghan Taliban to take power in Afghanistan, our much-fabled ‘strategic depth’ and fifth column claptrap. But don’t hide from cause and effect. Terrorism is an age-old effect that is created by some cause, either a reaction to tyranny, occupation or incorrect ideological conditioning. You cannot just wish it away or kill it with “shock and awe”.

What the Muslim world needs badly is the correct kind of contemporary education for its people to develop disciplined and scientific minds that can interpret faith into the right kind of belief systems.

I am aware of the ‘Track 2’ discussions taking place. They rarely work.

It would be remiss of me not to point out another American flaw. You find comfort in mostly meeting Pakistanis who sing the song that you wish to hear, which puts you in a false comfort zone. You need to meet people who tell you where you are wrong, not those who try and impress you about how ‘moderate’ and ‘westernised’ they are for their own reasons. While you are looking for advice they are looking for something else.

Enough of lecturing. Let’s cut to the chase and see what positive action can be taken to bring the US-Pakistan relationship back on track.

Forget Af-Pak. De-hyphenate Pakistan and Afghanistan and also rub out the mental hyphen between Pakistan and India as far as pulling America’s chestnuts out of the Afghan fire is concerned. Think of Am-Pak. That’s the new ball.

Stop fretting over CPEC. It will not only be good for Pakistan and China but the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative will be good for America and the West. CPEC would also benefit India if it would get off its high horse. We need to find ways to allow India trade access to Afghanistan, eventually through CPEC, without letting them take harmful advantage of that access.

USAID is not getting the goodwill it should because it often goes through questionable NGOs that misapply it and, let it be said, enrich the people running them. Work out what the greatest needs of the people are and then apply aid there through local people, not those living far away in Islamabad, Karachi or Lahore who know New York and London better than Pakistani ghettos and their hinterland.

Don’t support our corrupt rulers just because they wear the tattered cloak of sham electoral ‘democracy.’

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis was here. His meeting with the civilian administration was symbolic; the real meeting was with our army leadership. It doesn’t sound useless for they are talking about finding “meaningful common ground.” But it came with an implied threat: The US would give Pakistan “one more try” before Trump decides the alternatives.

Replace Pakistan with India? Good luck to both. More drone strikes? It has been done before and got you nowhere. Doesn’t help. This time the drones will be shot down, raising the temperature.

Take off the yellow goggles that RAW and NDS have presented you because they give you jaundiced eyes. Wear American goggles instead.

Pakistan needs the US in the long-term because of its huge knowledge bank from which we can learn. In the short-term, we need you to help us not fall into the economic abyss towards which we are hurtling.

The US needs Pakistan in the short-term to get its irons out of the Afghan fire and retain a presence there. It needs Pakistan in the long-term for geostrategic reasons at the very least. America and Pakistan are natural allies because of the many commonalities between them:

The initial impetus for making both countries was to escape religious persecution.

You have adopted a version of English as your first language; we have adopted our version of it as our official and second language. It is because we are a state with many languages that we have adopted a foreign language as our national language to keep the peace; you have adopted English partly for the same reasons and also because your original settlers came from the English-speaking world. Now Spanish is becoming your second language.

Most of our people don’t hate the US which is why many wish to migrate there, not only for economic reasons but also because they love your way of life with its many freedoms.

We can use all these commonalities as a starting point towards resetting our relationship.

About the Author
Humayun Gauhar
The writer has been a journalist and columnist since 1980. He writes for various national and international newspapers.