For foreign policy observers, the New Year began with America blocking $225 million in military aid to Pakistan, hours after US President Donald Trump tweeted to slam the country for being a safe haven for terrorists. What made it interesting was not just that the President backed his words with action, but even more that Pakistan, too, did not let it be a monologue, but pointed fingers back at the US.
Trump's public "breaking up" with Pakistan makes one ponder what's in store for the larger realignment in light of regional and global geopolitics. Pakistan's prime minister met his army chief, perhaps worried what more damage the US could do - one speculation being that the US could stifle an IMF-led bailout of Pakistan's economy.
Earlier, Trump had paved the way for a $700 million reimbursement to Pakistan for supporting the US effort in Afghanistan. Stopping the $255 million aid tranche has only led to the realisation that Pakistan is fast becoming a Chinese client state, with Beijing facilitating easy Yuan-based bilateral trade and investment.
Trump's tirade and the fascinating exchange that has followed has only served to highlight the complexity and contradictions in geopolitics. America's tectonic shift towards India is being met with Islamabad's military and economic shift into Beijing's camp. In this Realist zero-sum game, solutions for problems like the rise of extremism and terrorism become subordinated to the global power play between a Superpower and a rising challenger.
Without an alternative base to operate from in Afghanistan, the US is bereft of choice and has to work with Pakistan if it is to remain engaged in Afghanistan. Further, any solution to the crisis in Afghanistan or the larger issues of world terrorism cannot be found in threats by nations to annihilate one another. The problems of global politics are much more complex and require steady engagement in order to be able to deal with evil on a long-term basis.
There is a clamour in Pakistan civil society that their country needs better relations with its neighbours like Afghanistan, Iran, China and even India and therefore it would be apt for it to ignore Trump's America. There is a realisation with Pakistan that it has lost more than gained from the sacrifices it has had to make to be on the right side of America.
Diplomacy cannot be situated within an ambit of on-the-spur declarations on Twitter that lack sound reasoning. Pakistan is a nuclear-armed state. If the US is determined to destabilise Pakistan, has it thought about what's to happen to Rawalpindi's nuclear weapons? The whole of South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region feel the perils involved and have to think in terms of various stakeholders like India, China and Russia over the larger question of who will play the vital role of maintaining stability as Pakistan destabilises.
The complexities of Pakistan's problems are way beyond ordinary comprehension. Trump may be attempting to woo Uzbekistan in order to be able to make up for the loss of Pakistan's support, but will finding new allies work at a time when it is becoming clear that the US is systematically damaging its own value as an ally?
America's ironic situation is easy for anyone to see: only Pakistan can help or harm the US in Afghanistan. No wonder then that critics are pointing to the grave damage that Trump's impulsive tweet might have already done to that cause. Words or actions that have a loud bang but fail to generate the requisite impact prove to be rather counterproductive.
Pakistan is in a severe internal crisis that is only magnified by its external ambitions. While one may not want to gloss over its dealings with extremists, it is also a fact that it is fighting the largest inland war against terrorism, albeit of its own making. Coercive diplomacy at this stage cannot make its situation much worser, but it is pushing back, banking on other allies, such as China. In time, we will know whether it was America that trumped Pakistan or Pakistan dumped Trump.
Terrorism needs to condemned in the severest of terms, but dropping one ally to build up another cannot be the way forward to dealing with it. India, too, should sense this and instead of celebrating Trump's tweet, New Delhi must realise that the answer to managing its troublesome neighbour has to come of its own engagement with it.
In the quest to push Pakistan to heighten efforts to track terrorist financiers, President Trump has put forth a morally and intellectually weak way forward. Similar damage has been done to the cause of globalisation, with equally impulsive tweets, followed by policy measures that have hurt global trade and technology flows.
Such off-the-cuff remarks by a world leader puts a question mark on the rationality of peoples to tap the right processes and individuals to advance the cause of a stable world order and continued globalisation.
World leaders can, after all, cause or stoke conflicts with the use of one idea or a word that is ill-considered. It is not to say that world leaders must not publish their thoughts on platforms such as Twitter, but to ignore their propensity to cause damage on a global scale will lead to a situation when the benefits of ease of global communications are outweighed by its costs.
(The writer is an Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Delhi)