It must be stated at the very outset that Donald Trump is neither a run-of-the-mill political leader nor should anyone expect of him to be hemmed in by the established diplomatic protocol.
The presidency of the world’s most powerful country is the first elected office he is going to hold, and therefore how would he run that office is a great unknown. If his articulation during the election campaign is any indication, he comes up as a doublespeak commodity. The man he kissed on the forehead today may well be the same person he abused the day before; he is unpredictable.
Therefore, all that is being said on the mainstream and social media as to what he actually told Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in their telephone talk on Wednesday and, how much of it should have been released by Islamabad doesn’t make a lot of sense. May be, what he told the prime minister correctly reflects his inner thinking and he meant it, or it was his usual style of addressing others – who knows.
No doubt, not long ago, he was of the view that Pakistan is potentially a rogue state, Muslims should be barred from entering the US and climate change is a Chinese hoax. But that said, the fact cannot be denied also that all of the extravagance he showered on Nawaz Sharif and the people of Pakistan was actually uttered by the United States President-elect.
Donald Trump did say in so many words that Nawaz Sharif is a “terrific guy”, he had a “productive conversation” with him, Pakistanis are “intelligent people” and he would play “a role” in resolving Pakistan’s disputes with India. It is quite likely that, as an unidentified advisor to Trump reportedly said, the president-elect committed more than he meant.
But that is for his team to tackle. From the Pakistani perspective, whatever commitments Trump made to Sharif and his flowery expression for the people of Pakistan make a pleasing reading – and not without some reason. That Donald Trump is capable of saying or doing anything which was not done or said before is a fact.
It is also in public knowledge that historically Republican US presidents have been less hostile to Pakistan than Democrats, and Trump happens to be a Republican.
So the issue is not what the US President-elect told the prime minister of Pakistan, the issue is why it was made public in so many words. Perhaps, it should not have been done by the Pakistan government given the diplomatic norm to keep such conversations vague and non-committal.
But if the Trump setup can jump the gun, the Pakistani setup is no different either. Warmly welcoming his promise to visit Pakistan the Foreign Office said: “we look forward to closely working with the new Administration.”
Then there is the thinking here that releasing the ‘readout’ of the telephonic conversion between the two leaders is not so big a blunder as the foreign media, particularly the American and Indian, are trying to project.
Throughout the election campaign, Trump was under attack by the American media, as much for its pro-Democrat mindset as for its inability to differ with the opinion pollsters. And some of it, like the Forbes magazine, is upset because Trump’s “bluster is more likely to be taken as initial signal of his administration’s position” on the Pakistan-India dispute.
Given the president-elect’s propensity to keep modifying his perceptions and perspectives one would be profound naïve to believe that he would certainly use his office to strike a delicate balance in America’s relationships with Pakistan and India. But to think he is in New Delhi’s pocket, as Indian media is trying to suggest, that too would be no less naïve.
How come, it asks itself, someone who all along was telling Indian-origin Americans ‘if elected president the Indians and Hindu community will have a big friend in the White House’ now says Pakistan is an ‘amazing country with tremendous opportunities’. If Donald Trump was an enigma before election but no more after election, only time will tell – though we do nurture hope that he is capable of striking a balance in America’s relationships with Pakistan and India.