AFTER suffering a heavy defeat in the Nevada primary, Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz complained that “if Donald Trump became president nobody knows what the heck he would do… He doesn’t know what the heck he would do”. Many are beginning to wonder. Trump’s successive primary wins in South Carolina, New Hampshire and Nevada — and his near win in Iowa — are making the prospect of Trump becoming the Republican presidential candidate less remote. And with that comes the possibility of a Trump presidency.
A professor at Stony Brook University has predicted a 97 to 99pc chance that Trump will win the election (and his statistical model has got it right for every US election since 1912, bar one). So while the notion of a Trump presidency still feels more like a surreal reality television episode, it’s time to ask what it would mean for Pakistan.
Trump’s policies — to the extent he has any — are focused on the US economy. He has championed major tax cuts, protectionist policies such as spikes on import tariffs, and the renegotiation or disbandment of free-trade agreements. His strong anti-immigration stance is mostly ill-informed and xenophobic, but vaguely linked to the notion that clamping down on illegal immigration would create more jobs for Americans (not true, but never mind).
What are the implications of a Trump presidency for us?
Trump’s economic platform has few implications for Pakistan. We were the US’s 56th largest supplier of imported goods in 2013 with exports totalling around $3.6 billion; that figure has stayed flat through 2015. Protectionist policies in the US would hit the textiles and leather sectors hard, but the overall economic impact would not be game-changing.
Pakistanis educated in US colleges would also struggle to get jobs there, as Trump has promised to increase the wage requirements for H-1B visas, which allow US employers to hire foreign professionals. Given that the majority of remittances flow from the Gulf states, this too would not result in an immediate economic blow (though there would be long-term ramifications of a reduced Pakistani diaspora in the US in terms of trade, investment and outsourcing).
Trump has promised to increase funding for the US military. As such, his presidency would signal a return to a familiar dynamic between Pakistan and Republican presidents: closer military-to-military cooperation at the expense of civilian engagement; more military aid, less civil society capacity building; more defence deals, less overall bilateral trade.
Trump’s vocal support for strongmen who can guarantee stability — including Qadhafi and Saddam Hussein — indicates that the US under his watch would turn a blind eye to growing transgressions by future army chiefs into Pakistan’s civilian sphere, were that to occur. One suspects that our men in boots may not be as horrified by the prospects of a Trump presidency as others.
On the subject of India, however, they would differ. In January, Trump declared “India is doing great”. Viewing the world through a real estate prism, and with two towers going up in Mumbai and Pune, he is enamoured by our neighbour. He also views Narendra Modi as a fellow businessman who can get deals done (that can be the only explanation for his comment in August 2014 that India’s “new PM has done a fantastic job of bringing people together”.) A US under Trump would likely gravitate towards India, giving Delhi more space to challenge Pakistan’s counterterrorism track record.
A Trump presidency would also impact the Pakistan-China equation. Trump has made taking on China the focus of his campaign. He has promised to expose its currency manipulations, renegotiate trade terms, crackdown on Chinese IP infringement and force it to adhere to labour and environmental laws, all with an eye to boosting the competitiveness of American manufacturers. Such measures would make Beijing bristle, and curtail future potential for cooperation between the two powers, recently demonstrated during the Iran nuclear deal and Afghanistan talks. Pakistan would have to juggle its ties with Washington and Beijing, and would likely grow closer to the latter given the roll out of CPEC.
But the main reason Pakistan should worry about a Trump presidency is its potential to trigger a surge in extremist violence. A jingoistic US president — one that has repeatedly made clear his suspicion and spite for Muslims, whether they be legal immigrants or refugees; one who believes Christianity is “under siege” and has vowed to protect it — will be the stuff of dreams for militant groups. What better driver of recruitment?
The clash of civilisations that has until now been a debunked academic argument would become the status quo. And a surge in radical extremism will hit the Muslim world, including Pakistan, before it affects the US. For that reason alone, a Trump presidency would be bad for Pakistan, for the US, and the world.
The writer is a freelance journalist.
Published in Dawn, February 29th, 2016