A grim security scenario awaits Trump in South Asia

Kadayam Subramanian November 18, 2016 10:15 AM (UTC+8)
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The election of Donald J Trump, an allegedly racist, misogynistic and anti-minority person, to the position of President-Elect has far-reaching significance for the world. The election has met with significant opposition within the US. It has also viewed with dismay across the world.

Donald J Trump will be sworn in President of the US on January 20 2017.

Some uncertainty seems to prevail over who would become part of the President-Elect’s policy team on the multifarious challenges across the globe that he faces.

The South Asian response has been marked by diverse emotions and feelings including fear, disillusion and loathing accompanied by a measure of gloating as well.

Two perspectives on this election, one each from Pakistan and India, may be of interest.

Mohammed Hanif, a Pakistani novelist, writing in the International New York Times recently was at his sardonic best. He felt that “everything we already knew about ugly America just got a chest-thumping confirmation from Americans themselves!”

“There is gloating that the bully that roamed the earth proposing to start wars, topple governments and bankroll tin-pot dictators, has finally come home and brought with him all the racism and vulgarity he had doled out in various parts of the planet.”

The bully had “come home to assert his supremacy, his whiteness, his right to be ugly and foul-mouthed and to get rewarded for it.”

America, said the gloaters, “was a bit like that aging thing, who can’t terrorize the neighborhood anymore and so had turned on its own family.”

The Pakistanis who gloated over the Trump win, were basically saying that the previous American Presidents weren’t all that different. They’d put their arms around your shoulder and walk beside you for a bit and then stab you in the back. Trump however, kicked you while spitting on your face with a crowd cheering on.

America needed a revolution, said a friend. Did he think Trump’s win was good because it would trigger a revolution? “No,” he said: “Trump is the revolution!”

The Indian scholar-activist, Vithal Rajan writing in the Hindu newspaper grimly noted that in post-imperial America Trump was a “loose cannon” with limited diplomatic ability and imagination. “Sophisticated Chinese gamesmanship would have helped the American empire retain its power through military force. But the Chinese know that today political power is maintained through economic strength rather not territorial expansion.”

Donald J. Trump, as the 45th President of the US, would be encouraged by the racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic and violent Americans to embark on expensive but futile military adventures abroad while poverty spread at home. Frustrations of “red neck America” would grow and develop resulting in governance failure and tempt President Trump to vent his Islamophobia in West Asia and Pakistan.

South Asia would become the most dangerous place on earth. India’s right wing, maddened by the media, yells that Pakistan be taught a lesson for inflicting cross-border terrorism on India. The Indian Defense Minister wants that he should not be constrained by the no-first-use compulsion in adopting the nuclear option. Such hyper-nationalism could embolden the Pakistani military to opt for an all-out war with India.

Hasty US withdrawal of support could encourage the volatile Pakistani military to destabilize and escalate the situation to precipitate a nuclear clash. Without adequate diplomatic skills, the US, UK and Russia would fail to pull back India and Pakistan from the brink of war.

This would be a tragic outcome for the Trump presidency in South Asia.

Bilateral relations between India and Pakistan deteriorated after the avoidable shooting down of the charismatic young Kashmiri leader (22) Burhan Wani by the Indian security forces on July 9, 2016. The mass upsurge that ensued was put down at great human cost aggravating tensions in the Kashmir Valley. The upsurge was indigenous in origin but India projected it as Pakistan inspired. It sought to divert attention to human rights violations in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Balochistan. It accused Pakistan of being the mother of all terrorism in the region ignoring the fact that the New Delhi-based South Asia terrorism portal (www.satp.org) had brought out that during the years 2003-2016, Pakistan had suffered more from terrorist attacks than India.

The portal added that during these years, India had lost 26,882 lives (civilians: 9,640, security forces: 4,249, terrorists: 12,993) and Pakistan had lost 61,148 lives (civilians: 21,389, security forces: 6,564, terrorists: 33,195) from terrorist attacks. Further, the anti-Soviet Mujahedeen wars in Afghanistan (1979-1989) led by the US had led to influx of 25,000 foreign jihadists into Afghanistan and the entry of about seven million Afghan refugees into Pakistan.

It is quite amazing that official Indian agencies had failed to note this data emanating from one of India’s reputed agencies.

Terrorism has been described as a “multinational systemic crime” along with drug trafficking, money laundering and espionage. There is considerable scope for regional cooperation between India and Pakistan, which both countries should consider.

At the BRICS conference that followed in New Delhi, attended by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, India massively targeted Pakistan as the mother ship of all terrorism and sought to isolate it internationally but failed. The President of China clearly stated that his country did not believe in targeting any single country or religion as the main source of terrorism. China believed that Pakistan had suffered more from terrorism and had made huge sacrifices in fighting against it. India suffered a significant diplomatic setback.

India attributed the September 18 terrorist attack at the Uri military camp in Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan-based terrorists. On September29, India carried out “surgical strikes” against Pakistan across the Line of Control (LoC). However, Pakistan denied that any such strikes had taken place.

A good deal of xenophobia was witnessed in India following the “surgical strikes” against Pakistan. Militaristic noises are being made, including by the Defense Minister of India.

This is the precise context in which the election of the controversial Donald J. Trump as President-Elect of the US has taken place. This development has far reaching significance for peace-building in South Asia. The US President-Elect has a key role to play in this regard.

The selection of the US President-Elect’s National Security Advisor and his team of experts, is keenly awaited.

Kadayam Subramanian
Kadayam Subramanian is former Director, Research and Policy Division, Union Home Ministry, Government of India, and former Director General of Police in Northeast India. He is the author, among others, of Political Violence and the Police in India, Sage, 2007, and State, Policy and Conflicts in Northeast India, Routledge, 2016
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