In what was a routine call, a formal diplomatic interaction between incumbent Prime Minister of Pakistan– Nawaz Sharif and US President elect—Donald Trump, turned out to be much ado about nothing. Official circles in Pakistan were agog with the reported effusive language used by Trump, vociferous in tone, profuse in praise of Nawaz Sharif, and expansive—given the reserve expected in diplomatic norms. As the flowery language became public news, alarm bells started ringing from Washington to New Delhi. The Trump transition team has issued its own version of the Sharif—Trump telephonic call. While it accepted the productive nature of conversation in underlining that United States and Pakistan will have a strong working relationship in the future, it fell short of confirming "flowery language" included in the Pakistani version of this talk. "President-elect Trump also noted that he is looking forward to a lasting and strong personal relationship with Prime Minister Sharif," the statement from Trump's transition team added. In between the leakage of telephonic talk in Pakistan and the appearance of Trump team version, the confusion caused is worth recounting.
The New York Times called it "a bizarre conversation", noting that "while not exactly confirming the content, the Trump transition team did acknowledge the call". "Readouts of phone calls between world leaders are usually written safely in order to protect leaders from incidental backlash — like the one the Trump team put out," CNN noted. Forbes magazine put in a warning note, while calling Trump's comments as "cozy, expansive, even flattering," it warned that "his bluster is more likely to be taken as the initial signal of his administration's position" on the Pakistan-India dispute. Continuing the warning note, Forbes added, ''It matters that he uses words like very good reputation, amazing work, fantastic country, fantastic place, fantastic people''. Forbes magazine was relating to expressions that Trump used, as per the Pakistani version, in relation to Pakistan and Prime Minister—Nawaz Sharif. The Washington Post called the Pakistani release "a surprisingly candid read" and noted that it "focuses almost entirely on Trump's contribution to the conversation, and reproduces them in a voice that is unmistakably his (Mr Trump's)".
Indian press agency—PTI carried three news dispatches on Saturday—3rd December, downplaying the import of Trump's effusiveness in praise of Pakistan and Nawaz Sharif. It quoted an op-ed write-up of Lisa Curtis of 'The Heritage Foundation' in, 'The Daily Signal'. Lisa's note makes out, ''It is highly doubtful that Trump administration will consider inserting itself into volatile Indo-Pakistani dispute, especially when Trump has signalled his interest in prioritising deepening ties with India''. Lisa Curtis called Trump's offer to play ''any role in helping Pakistan address its outstanding issues'' read as reference to Kashmir, ''a friendly banter that could have been made to almost any foreign leader''. Another reaction of high note was the statement of White House Press Secretary—Josh Earnest making out that outgoing President Obama though expressing a desire to visit Pakistan at the beginning of the term could not do so because of a ''complicated relationship with the country''. Yet another PTI dispatch related to a Hindu American group urging Trump to carefully look at records of Pakistan in particular its fight against terrorism and human rights. Calling it double dealing, the group advised caution. These dispatches shows needless wrecking of nerves, while as US mostly sticks to bi-partisanship in managing foreign relations, balancing equations.
USA has always been seen as holding the balance in Indo-Pak relations. While as in second half of 20th century, US holding the balance tilted towards Pakistan, the turn of century witnessed a gradual reversal, as US started cultivating India. In fact the relationship started blossoming in 90's of 20th century, as India embraced Adam Smith model in preference to Nehru's socialist model displaying what some Indian economists have called, 'Hindu rate of growth'. Deciphering the reasons for the shift does not make rocket science. As with every country, US interest ever and always serve as the motivating factor for any shift in policy. India's burgeoning economy, widening market for multi-nationals to exploit, qualifying to be one amongst G-20; a de-facto atomic power could be tempting factors for any global power, US—the super-power could hardly be expected to stay out of a promising equation.
Pakistan's growing relations with China, termed all weather, given Chinese stakes in geopolitical positioning of Pakistan forms an additional factor. US feels the geostrategic balance could be held by cultivating India, without losing Pakistan totally, given the Afghan situation and US stakes there, and in West Asia as well. Here again Pakistan's geopolitical location provides it an advantage in strategic parlance. US reservations however remain vis-à-vis Pakistan allegedly for cultivating Af-Taliban and Haqani group. True or otherwise, Af-Taliban and Haqani group, along with some other militant groups, such as LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammad are called Pakistan's strategic assets, allegedly used as and when needed. Pakistani denials are heeded neither by US, nor by India or Afghanistan. The US administration often appreciates Pakistan's partnership in curbing terrorism, but in the same breath asks it to do more.
Mr. Pence—Vice President Elect has added dimension to the drama by talking of Trump's negotiating skills, which may be a fact, however Indo-Pak relation given its bluster is more than a mouthful, too hot for anyone trying to taste it.
Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]
(Author is doctor in medicine, a social activist, and a senior columnist)