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

Opinion: One Belt, One Road: We must secure our interest

Shah Husain Imam argues in the Daily Star that Bangladesh must put its interests first in joining China’s One Belt, One Road initiative. The ancient Silk Road, of which the Belt and Road Initiative is a gigantic new avatar, dates back to the Chinese Han Dynasty’s westward expansion more than 2100 years ago. The Road derived its name from the lucrative silk trade along the routes through which it branched into what are today the central Asian countries Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, as well as present-day Pakistan and India to the south. These routes eventually spanned 4,000 miles to Europe. Interestingly, silk was regarded as more precious than gold as a commodity in those times as if to convey the misty romanticism with the old world charm about a fine fabric. At any rate, the Silk Road by no means offered silken smooth passage to travellers like Marco P

By Daily Star
September 21, 2018

Analysis, Opinion

A land with no smiles

The Thai middle class’ Faustian bargain with the military is hampering true democracy in the country. Almost ten years ago, I met a protester on the streets of Bangkok. It was a time of protest and political instability with the drama between the government and protesters spilling out onto the streets. To protect his identity against possible military reprisal, let us call him Nadech. Nadech will unlikely be recorded in history books, he was not a political leader, nor a despotic general or any other archetype of Thai history. He was a simple junk-store hawker, an occupation that involves going from house to house and sorting garbage to sell. His family had done well enough through grit and hard work to open a small convenience store in his home province. Nadech had taken to the streets in 2010 because he had believed the promises that exiled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had made and had seen, fi

By Cod Satrusayang
September 21, 2018

Analysis, Opinion

The aftermath of super-Typhoon Mangkhut

Typhoon Mangkhut, which swept through the Philippines, Hong Kong and Southern China over the weekend will go down on history as one of the regions most powerful storms in years. The Philippines In the Philippines, the aftermath of the storm which locally bore the name “Ompong” has been devastating. More than half a million people have been impacted and the latest death toll shows that the typhoon claimed the lives of at least 74 people and injured 74 more. As many as 55 people are still missing. The majority of those casualties are related to the dozens of landslides that tore through the Cordillera Administrative Region, a gold-mining zone. The search effort for those who are still missing has been slow-going. Major roads were rendered impassable, making heavy e

By Quinn Libson
September 19, 2018

Analysis, Opinion

How a new party trumped the ruling PDP in Bhutan’s primary polls

In its third election as a full-fledged democracy, Bhutanese came out in large numbers to oust the ruling People’s Democratic Party run by Harvard-educated Tshering Tobgay. Come October 18 and Bhutan will witness a close fight between one of its oldest political parties – Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) – and Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), a new party that has gained popularity in the recent past. The tiny Himalayan kingdom – called Druk Yul in Bhutanese (Land of the Thunder Dragon) – is nestled between economic rivals China and India. It opened up to the world as late as the 1970s. Before Bhutan became a two-party parliamentary democracy in March 2008, the Wangchuck hereditary monarchy wielded power from 1907. On September 15, Bhutanese

By Lamat R Hasan
September 19, 2018

Analysis, Opinion

China hits back with tariffs on US$60b of US goods in trade war

China has hit back with reciprocal tariffs after President Trump imposed tariffs on over $200 billion of Chinese goods. China will impose tariffs on US$60 billion (S$82.3 billion) worth of US goods as retaliati

By The Straits Times
September 19, 2018

Analysis, Opinion

Kim, Trump and the nuclear crisis: A conundrum eternal?

Kim should seize the opportunity to end nuclear crisis, engage with the world, writes Chon Shi-yong. This week (Tuesday, September 18) the South Korean President Moon Jae-in flies to Pyongyang to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The United States and North Korea are working to set up a second meeting between US President Donald Trump and Kim. These developments certainly raise hopes for a reinvigoration of negotiations on denuclearizing the North, which were propelled forward by the summits involving the three leaders held in quick succession earlier this year. But optimism should be guarded. A solution to the nuclear crisis, which has threatened security and stability in the region persistently for a quarter of a century, will not come soon and easily. The history — including what has happened in the short months before and after the historic Trump-Kim meeting in Singapore in June — tells you why th

By Asia News Network
September 17, 2018