Under U.S. President Donald Trump a new breeze is blowing across the world and bids fair to become a blizzard. Unsurprisingly, it took ever-pragmatic former president and Pakistan Peoples Party co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari to show Pakistan the way it should look at the challenge posed by the new U.S. administration. Zardari has indirectly told the strategy-framing bosses in Pakistan not to succumb to their zero-sum kneejerk reaction: “Critics should not write off Donald Trump. He should be given a chance to leave his effect on the region. It would be premature to say anything about Trump at the moment.”
Pakistanis—especially in the media and political spheres—start salivating when it comes to seeing matters of global import in black and white. In a unipolar world overseen by ‘superpower’ America, this kind of thinking was possible: you side with the nation carrying the biggest stick and relax. Unfortunately, Islamabad and Rawalpindi have cultivated this mindset into a reflex and in recent months Pakistan has been tempted to re-align its strategic radar around China, replacing America. Similarly, Islamabad has voiced approval at overtures from Russia—as if riding the new anti-American bandwagon could balance American policies under Trump. This is not going to work and China knows it. Russia’s interest is negative: it is bothered by increasing Muslim terrorism in its own federation (Chechnya) and in the southern neighborhood of Central Asia.
Trump is going to be tough—as opposed to China wanting the same sort of thing but with a bit more flexibility—on the U.N.-designated terrorist organizations operating in Pakistan. Pakistan has been warding off action against these organizations with the help of a Chinese veto, but Trump may well take direct action and make it tough for Pakistanis traveling to the United States—as he is already planning for citizens of Muslim-majority nations such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen. If Pakistan resists, Trump will just side with India and make Islamabad uncomfortable during a period of crucial economic transformation under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project.
Pakistan must bend to the breeze so it can stand up to the blizzard when it comes. The entire world fears it, but will be careful taking counter-action.