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Trump’s tirade against Pakistan could be a result of China’s growing global ambitions

Much could still change, depending on whether the US proceeds with its foolish gambit of making peace with the Taliban to ensure Trump’s objective of exiting Afghanistan. But Pakistan’s days of being a dishonest broker in similar undertakings in the past, may be ending.

columns Updated: Nov 23, 2018 18:25 IST
Unlike the others, though, Pakistan has often been in Trump’s sights, from before he became president. Once in the Oval Office, he has acted in culling aid to Islamabad(AFP)

If you’re known by the company you keep, Islamabad has excellent companions, in the sense of earning a Twitter tirade from the 45th president of the United States. Countries that have been abused by Donald Trump on social media could easily make for a quorum in the United Nations General Assembly, and they range from China to those in Central America and Africa, as well as America’s allies of the pre-Trump era, like Germany, France and the United Kingdom.

Unlike the others, though, Pakistan has often been in Trump’s sights, from before he became president. Once in the Oval Office, he has acted in culling aid to Islamabad. For years, India has complained about this form of bribe to keep Rawalpindi’s generals behaviour merely bad, rather than worse, but Washington always retorted that New Delhi shouldn’t view that as a zero sum game. Well, the sums involved were humongous, by Trump’s reckoning, $33 billion over 15 years.

While traditional allies of the US may have distanced themselves from many of Trump’s tactics, Pakistan may not get a pass. And the reason is that Islamabad is being judged by the company it’s keeping on a different front: China. The West increasingly recognises that Beijing’s global ambitions and territorial greed outweigh the trade potential it presents, particularly as its economy sputters. Its meddling in local politics from Australia to Canada and even the US has added to the simmering disquiet caused by the Belt and Road Initiative and internal quashing of human rights the way only an autocracy can accomplish.

In Western capitals, Pakistan is, for obvious reasons, being viewed as a client state of China. Which, in itself, is an ironic position for Islamabad. It once operated in just that capacity vis-à-vis the US as Afghanistan became a theatre in the 1980s for the Cold War going hot, by proxy. Decades later, it’s Beijing’s baby and China just doesn’t have the kind of influence the US possesses to insulate Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan may protest being made a scapegoat, especially after it played its usual hand of offering up an Al Qaeda figure, as it does periodically to curtail criticism, but the wares it had peddled so successfully for decades may finally be reaching their expiry date.

Much could still change, depending on whether the US proceeds with its foolish gambit of making peace with the Taliban to ensure Trump’s objective of exiting Afghanistan. But Pakistan’s days of being a dishonest broker in similar undertakings in the past may be ending. Even if there are periods of renewed patronage, the process of the country turning collateral damage in the 21st century version of the Cold War appears irreversible.

Although the American President is apt to change his mind as often as he disses CNN, this may finally be when the Twitter tiger’s snarl may not be lacking teeth.

Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Nov 23, 2018 18:24 IST