Donald Trump has a unique chance to resolve the longstanding Pakistan-India Kashmir issue. The U.S. President-elect’s recent phone call with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif indicates one thing: his growing interest in South Asia.
The phone call and its supposedly sugary sweet language (at least according to the Pakistani PM’s office) took the global media-sphere by storm. It’s still unclear whether or not Pakistan sugarcoated Trump’s language during the call, but nevertheless, Washington confirmed that the phone call took place.
Trump may be criticized for not consulting with U.S. officials before making that call, but at least the U.S. President-elect gave us a sneak peek at his South Asian policies. Trump could indeed be interested in resolving the longstanding and deadly Kashmir issue, and there are several reasons why he should be.
Trump’s journey: From anti-Pakistan rhetoric to sweet-talking Pakistan
Trump’s supposedly flowery language when speaking with the Pakistanis took the media by surprise for several reasons. During his long, grueling presidential campaign, Trump expressed his anti-Muslim rhetoric and supported policies that could be damaging to Muslims, both inside and outside the U.S.
A number of countries, including India and the U.S., have accused Pakistan of sheltering terrorists. And when Trump said he wouldn’t tolerate the “good militant/bad militant” thinking, everyone thought Pakistan would be in big trouble if Trump was elected to be the next president.
Trump’s professing love for the Muslim state suspected of spreading terrorism in the region was truly unexpected and out of the blue. This is the man who’s always pledged an “America first” policy. This is also the man who’s expressed little to no interest in offering foreign aid. So naturally, for Trump, who also has very deep business ties with India, to call Pakistani’s PM a “terrific guy” and pledge to play “any role” Pakistan wants him to play as U.S. President was truly shocking.
Trump planning to visit Pakistan
Trump’s sudden change of heart toward Pakistan might mean that he’s finally becoming more realistic about his presidency. He has demonstrated the sensitivity to address the longstanding Kashmir issue. Tensions between Pakistan and India in Kashmir, with both nuclear-armed nations claiming it as their own territory, have been growing amid increasing casualties at the border.
Shortly after Trump’s phone call with the Pakistani PM, White House spokesman Josh Earnest noted that while the relationship between Washington and Islamabad remains complicated, Pakistan is likely to be included in the list of countries Trump will visit after being sworn in as President in January.
After the chirpy and promising call with the U.S. President-elect, the Pakistani PM is also reportedly expected to visit Washington in the first quarter of 2017 when a meeting with Trump will reportedly be included in his U.S. engagements.
What are Trump’s interests in resolving the Kashmir issue?
Relations between Pakistan and the U.S. took a turn for the worse after the U.S. conducted a raid in Pakistan and killed Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in May 2011. Over the past eight years during U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration, Pakistan-U.S. relations have been deteriorating, which is why Obama’s wish to visit Islamabad couldn’t materialize. But Trump has a unique chance to shift U.S. policies in Asia toward the best interests for America while in the process resolving longstanding issues in the region, such as the Kashmir issue.
His sudden interest in Pakistan comes as no surprise at all if you look at the bigger picture. Both India and Pakistan are equally important for Trump, and stabilization in the region is in America’s best interests. So for Trump to amend ties with Pakistan is not that surprising, given that stabilization in the region without involving Pakistan as a key negotiator would be virtually impossible and fruitless.
There’s no doubt that the stability of South Asia has a direct link to resolving the Kashmir issue and managing relations between the Pakistan and India. While Trump keeping friendly ties with India is a crucial part of balancing the region as part of the U.S. pivot to Asia policy, cooperating with Pakistan is equally important to stabilize Afghanistan and eliminate terrorism and radicalism in the region.
While India is a crucial trade market for the U.S., Pakistan is an important trade route for the U.S. as well. The U.S. could boost its influence in the region by helping connect South Asia and Central Asia. Keeping Afghanistan and Pakistan at the center of that inter-connectivity would help boost commerce across Central Asia.
Trump’s extraordinary negotiating skills could help Kashmir
The U.S. could also greatly benefit from its planned projects like the New Silk Road, which has already launched several major projects in the region and even involves China. Achieving stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan in terms of security and trade is equally important for the U.S., which is why eliminating regional issues such as the Kashmir issue should be one of Trump’s priorities in Asia after assuming office.
And U.S. Vice President-elect Mike Pence seems to have just confirmed that Trump is poised to play a pivotal role in the Kashmir issue. Speaking to an American news channel this week, Pence said Trump’s unmatched negotiating skills will help reduce conflicts around the world, including in South Asia. The U.S. could also greatly benefit from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as well. Although Trump may find it disturbing that the project boosts China’s role in the region, the CPEC can bring the long-desired stability in the region. By launching a partnership with Pakistan and China on the CPEC project, Trump could set a good example for other regional nations, including India, that getting involved in the CPEC is a huge stabilizing factor.
However, just as how India would have to start dealing with Pakistan against its will, Trump, who has major reservations about business with China, would have to prioritize either achieving stability in the region through negotiations with Beijing and Islamabad or getting isolated from Asia and focusing on domestic issues.
Trump’s priorities in South Asia
Being a businessman, Trump knows the importance of peace and stability for the sake of America’s economic growth and trade. While the South Asian region remains unstable due to terrorism and the Kashmir issue, the U.S. has a rather miserable chance of dealing and having strong ties in the region.
Never-ending clashes between Pakistan and India over the Kashmir issue could also damage the growing interests of the U.S. in Afghanistan and Central Asia. So if Trump indeed wants to be the President acting in the best interests of America, addressing the Pakistan-India issues and achieving stability in the region should be of high priority for him.