See More on Facebook

Analysis, Opinion

Trump’s India tilt

Donald Trump Jr’s visit to India signals a political shift to the sub-continent and warming ties between the senior Trump’s administration and the Modi government.

Written by

Updated: February 27, 2018

Last week, Donald Trump Jr visited India to tour and promote properties licensed by the Trump Organisation. The visit has been controversial in the US, blurring the lines between business and politics, and creating discomfort around the potential conflicts of interest between the US president’s official position and his commercial interests as represented by his son. Democrats and ethics watchdogs especially objected to Trump Jr’s plans to make a speech on Indo-Pacific ties, arguing that as a private citizen on a business trip, the president’s son should not discuss US foreign policy. (The address was canceled hours before it was scheduled to take place.)

While protocol may ultimately have been observed, there is no doubt that there was a political dimension to Trump Jr’s visit. Senators rightly noted that the president’s son would be perceived as representing the US government. The mangled plans for a foreign policy address did not help discourage this perception. Nor did Modi’s presence at the business conference Trump Jr attended. And photos of a member of Trump’s family, garlanded and sporting a bindi, say it all: the Trump brand — the father, the son, and their whole set-up — are entranced by India.

That message is reiterated by the US’s steadily declining relations with Pakistan. Trump Jr’s cavorts with Indian businessmen coincided with the FATF plenary where the US successfully lobbied to have Pakistan ‘greylisted’ for failing to sufficiently tackle money laundering and terrorism financing. Simul­ta­neously, Trump’s deputy press secretary stated that the US president is “not satisfied with progress when it comes to Pakistan”. The FATF blow is the latest pressure tactic by Washington, following the suspension of aid and demands to root out Afghan militant sanctuaries.

All this is sufficient to make conspiracy theorists who have long railed against a supposed US-India nexus to destabilize and isolate Pakistan feel vindicated. But it is not as simple as that.

Trump Jr’s visit indicates that the tilt to India is driven by the mixed motivations of this particular administration. It is probably no coincidence that, according to a November 2016 Washington Post report, the Trump Organisation has more business interests in India than any other foreign country. The first family is not beyond using strong political ties now to reap the financial windfall once Trump’s term ends: while in India, Trump Jr griped about not being able to strike new deals owing to his father’s position and said he expected to be “welcomed again with open arms” once his family was out of politics.

India is also receptive to Trump’s art-of-the-deal version of diplomacy, which is dominated by transactions such as defense deals. As such, there is likely much short-termism in the US approach that is pro-India and hard on Pakistan. Although Washington and Delhi agree on some major issues — such as curtailing China’s regional role — they will continue to disagree on many issues, ranging from economic, energy and environmental policies to the US hopes that India will be a more willing participant in its various regional interventions. Future administrations will likely seek to rebalance the US’s South Asia strategy, recognizing the value of keeping Pakistan on the same side.

The FATF debacle is also a good reminder that the regional equation is not as simple as India-US versus Pakistan-China. Pakistan was reportedly grey listed because the US urged China and Saudi Arabia to drop their opposition to the move. This is unsurprising. Nations, including our key allies, have multiple interests that need to be deftly secured in a multipolar world. Rather than pursue an equally sophisticated, multipronged foreign policy, Pakistan continues to be reliant on the goodwill of friends, wounded by betrayals, petulant in response.

There are, however, signs that good sense might prevail. Backc­hannel talks between Pakistan and the US continue at the highest (military) levels. This subtle diplomacy is the best approach to ride out Trump’s Indophilia, and should include civilian as well as military representatives to ensure that any bilateral understanding forged is holistic and serves Pakistan’s myriad interests, not security concerns alone.

While Trump Jr chugged champagne with India’s business elite, our prime minister joined hands with representatives from Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and India to inaugurate the TAPI gas pipeline. This project offers a different vision for the region than the one proffered in Trump’s tweets and his family’s business networking and championed by the previous US administration — one of a region integrated by energy connectivity and mutual economic interests. The TAPI pipeline has had several false starts and still faces financing and security hurdles (despite an Afghan Taliban promise to protect the pipeline) that may yet stymie its ambitious two-year completion deadline. But as far as pipe dreams go, it offers a better alternative to the deepening rifts on all sides.

(This article was written by Huma Yusuf and appeared originally in the Dawn Newspaper)

Enjoyed this story? Share it.

ANN Members
About the Author: Asia News Network is a regional media alliance comprising 24 media entities.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia

Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.

By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Analysis, Opinion

What does Vietnam’s new cyber law mean for online dissent?

Will Facebook kowtow to the Vietnamese government to keep its market share. Facebook is in violation of a Vietnamese new cybersecurity law by allowing its users to post content critical of the communist government on its platform, the Ministry of Information and Communication announced on Wednesday of last week. The news came just days after the law went into effect on Jan. 1. The new legislation requires internet companies to comply with government demands to remove user-posted material it doesn’t like. The law also stipulates that information technology companies—Facebook and Google for instance—may be required to set up local offices and store customer data domestically, a feature which human rights advocates worry might make it easier for the government to track and charge dissidents for their online activities. This new legislation follows a pattern of increasing digital scrutiny by th

By Quinn Libson
January 15, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Seat belt warning as storm clouds loom in 2019

A look at potential headlines in 2019 by the Straits Times’ Warren Fernandez. You have been here before. As you settle into your comfortable seat for the long flight ahead, a voice crackles from the cockpit. “Our flying time today will be 12 hours, 40 minutes, and we expect a smooth journey ahead, but there looks to be some pockets of turbulence along the way,” your captain says, sounding vaguely assuring. “We suggest you keep your seat-belt on.” So was said on my recent Singapore Airlines flight home from holidaying abroad. It prompted several hours of meandering musings from 30,000 feet in the air about what lies ahead in the New Year. Some of the storm clouds that appear to loom on the political horizon include: 1. US-China: rivalries among frenemies Three recent developments sum up the precarious state of relations between the world’s two main powers, now on a tentative

By The Straits Times
January 7, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Previewing Sheikh Hasina’s fourth term

A unanimous poll decision leaves Sheikh Hasina with many decisions to make. It is the huge gaps in the numbers of votes polled by the winners and the losers in the 11th national election that apparently unveiled a “controlled and patterned” nature of the process of polls. A foreign media commentator wondered why any “control” was exercised over BNP activists since the announcement of election schedule in September last. In his opinion, the ruling coalition or Mahajote contestants would have won by a handsome margin without keeping BNP workers at bay anyway! More so when the BNP was waffling and unprepared! In fact, a hundred BNP candidates’ deposits have been forfeited as they couldn’t even secure one-tenth of their adversaries’ tally. In BNP’s last election debacle when they had around 30 seats, deposits of only 10 contestants were forfeited. But I have

By Daily Star
January 4, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Afghan war helped Pakistan keep nuclear option: US papers

US backing for anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan may have enabled the Pakistan bomb. Torn between preventing Pakistan from going nuclear and fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, the United States appears to have decided that pushing the Russians out of Kabul was more important, shows a set of documents released by the US State Department. Official US memos and letter — released under an arrangement to make public official documents after 30 years — show that Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (in office from 1978 to 1989) also played a key role in convincing Washington to continue to support Islamabad despite its nuclear programme. Timeline: History of US-Pakistan relations A confidential State Department report, dated Aug 20, 1984, shows that by 1984 Washington knew Islamabad had acquired the

By Dawn
December 24, 2018

Analysis, Opinion

What caused the Sunda Strait tsunami?

A volcanic eruption may have been the cause of the cataclysmic event. Questions still abound about what caused the tsunami that hit beaches in Lampung and Banten on Saturday night, killing at least 168 and injuring 750. The lack of a powerful earthquake or strong volcanic eruption caused the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) to initially announce that the waves did not constitute a tsunami but were instead caused by high tide. “The BMKG has not recorded any earthquake occurring tonight. What happened in Anyer [Banten] and the surrounding area was not a tsunami, but a tidal wave. There is also a full moon tonight, which causes high tidal waves. Stay calm,” the BMKG stated on its Twitter account on Saturday night, in a tweet that has since been deleted. It was only discovered hours later that the tide was three meter high, and potentially caused by volcanic activity of Mou

By The Jakarta Post
December 24, 2018

Analysis, Opinion

Bangladesh most gender equal country in South Asia

Close behind is Sri Lanka at second place with Pakistan lagging far behind. For the fourth time in a row, Bangladesh held the top position among South Asian countries in ensuring gender equality. The country has slipped only one notch down to the 48th position among 149 countries worldwide, but is still ahead of all other countries in Asia except the Philippines, according to World Economic Forum’s ‘The Global Gender Gap Report 2018’ published on Monday. “Bangladesh consolidates its position as the region’s top performer and breaks into the top five in the global index on the Political Empowerment sub-index this year, recording progress on closing its political gender gap, despite a widening gender gap in terms of labour force participation,” said the report. Its South Asian neighbours on the index are Sri Lanka, ranked 100th, Nepal ranked 105th, India ranked 1

By Daily Star
December 20, 2018