US president-elect Donald Trump foreign policy stance is a “mystery at the moment” but India could be a key component of his plans for South Asia, American experts Alyssa Ayres and Daniel Twining said at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on Saturday.
They also said the real estate mogul could be more pragmatic once he assumes office and set aside some of the controversial pledges he made while on the campaign trail. They noted he had gone back on promises to bring back waterboarding for terror suspects and to prosecute his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Ayres, senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, pointed out Trump was the first presidential candidate to make a campaign advertisement in Hindi and was aware that India is a “major market”.
New Delhi could be key to Trump’s South Asia policy and he could even work with India on Pakistan, she said. Trump’s outreach to Indian-Americans – including the advertisement in which he spoke of “Aab ki baar Trump sarkar” – was a reflection of this, said Ayres, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia.
Twining, director of the Asia Program at The German Marshall Fund of US, described Trump as a “rational man who can be persuaded” and an “American nationalist, not an isolationist”. Speaking during the session on “The new US president and South Asia”, he said: “Watch what he does, not what he says.”
He noted there was a “misunderstanding” in India about the US-Pakistan military relationship. He said there had been a marked shift in the US military’s policy as American military personnel had seen their colleagues killed by “Pakistan-sponsored” terrorism in Afghanistan.
“Trump is probably going to be harder on Pakistan as he doubles down on India,” Twining said. Besides, India’s “vigorous economy” would have a natural appeal for Trump, he added.
In some ways, Trump’s election win could be compared to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s victory in 2014 as both men wanted to shake up the existing “ossified” set-up, said Twining, who has worked with previous Republican administrations.
Trump could also take a harder position on China, and a planned build-up of the US Navy could allow Washington to move from a position of “speaking loudly and carrying a small stick” to a position of wielding a “big stick”, he added.
Ayres expressed concern that the US could lose its place as a key player in climate change negotiations if Trump walked out of the Paris Accord.
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