When Donald Trump visited India recently, he became the fourth consecutive US President to do so, and India is the only South Asian country he has visited in his term as President so far. Both these factors signalled the importance Washington attached to Delhi. However, in Pakistan the effort was to deride the importance of the visit. Even more delusional was the assertion that actually ‘the visit was a triumph of Pakistan’s diplomacy’!

by Tilak Devasher

What Pakistan doesn’t want to understand is that the importance of the visit was not in the deals but what the trip brought to the strategic relationship.

As the visit unfolded, there was grudging admiration in Pakistan that the US President began his tour with a massive rally in Ahmedabad with over one lakh people in attendance, making it the biggest political gathering of his career. This was, however, downplayed by saying that it was only a PR exercise to draw support from people of Indian origin in the US for the forthcoming presidential election. The fact that Trump called Modi an exceptional leader was reluctantly noted but explained away by stating that the Indian PM tried to cover up the failed exercise by claiming that Trump was touring India with his family because he felt family-like ties with India.

There was much glee that despite the rousing welcome ‘the maverick President said in front of an Indian crowd that America’s ties with Pakistan were very good and in the wake of his efforts, both the US and Pakistan were seeing the signs of big progress on vital issues’. Trump brought further joy by claiming that the Pakistan PM was his friend.

This was latched on to, and even Imran Khan, literally scraping the bottom of the barrel, told his cabinet that Trump’s recognition of Pakistan’s anti-terrorism efforts in India was a diplomatic win for Islamabad. He further held that New Delhi’s nefarious designs against Islamabad had been thwarted and Modi had failed to sell his anti-Pakistan narrative to the US President. One scribe claimed that ‘Pakistan came out victorious without even being present.’ And that ‘Trump’s visit of India gave more to Pakistan than it delivered to India’.

The euphoria was, however, short-lived. What was uncomfortable for Pakistan was that Trump stated: ‘The United States and India are firmly united in our iron-clad resolve to defend our citizens from the threat of radical Islamic terrorism.’ They were also uncomfortable when Trump highlighted India’s secular heritage and ‘freedom, liberty, individual rights, the rule of law, and the dignity of every human being’ being enjoyed by the Indian people. Though Trump offered to help the two countries on Kashmir if they wanted, he also repeated the charge about terrorism by demanding that Pakistan not allow terrorists to use its soil and the two sides pressed Pakistan to expeditiously bring to justice those behind the Mumbai and Pathankot attacks.

An effort was also made to project that the unrest in Delhi overshadowed the Trump-Modi meeting. When this did not cut much ice, it was regretted that despite the clashes, all Trump said was that the incident was ‘up to India’ to handle and that Modi had worked ‘really hard’ to ensure religious freedom.

Clutching at straws, it was emphasised that there was no common enemy to forge a strategic bond between the two countries since the US was focused on China while India was focused on Pakistan. So the hope was expressed that the US could be frustrated with India’s lack of sincerity in its Indo-Pacific strategy. As a corollary, the wishful thinking was that this could enhance opportunities for the improvement of Pakistan-US relations, given Pakistan’s significance in Afghanistan. This was a futile attempt to claw back the primacy that Pakistan had lost in its relations with the US.

Though much was made about the lack of a trade deal during the visit, even though it was acknowledged that one was in the offing, Pakistan’s own effort to promote trade ties with the US came to naught. On February 26, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross’s visited Islamabad. No breakthrough could be achieved on the three long-pending issues raised by Pakistan: initiation of Scoping Study for Free Trade Agreement (FTA), expanding the GSP Plus list for providing concession on additional export items and moving towards Trade and Investment Framework Agreement.

Since the Pakistan military measures close ties with the US in terms of military assistance, what really worried Pakistan was the $3 billion defence deal with India that was both important in itself and signalled that high-end military equipment was available to India.

In Pakistan, the opposition set matters at rest when it lashed out at the government ‘trumpeting’ the success of its foreign policy by asserting that the Indo-US ‘joint statement had torn Pakistan to bits’.

A reality check was provided by a scribe: ‘It’s time that in the domain of foreign relations as well as the domestic front, instead of living in self-delusion, Pakistan pursues well-thought-out policies based on ground realities rather than illusions.’

What Pakistan does not want to understand is that the importance of the visit was not in the deals that were finalised or not finalised but what the trip brought to the strategic relationship. Undoubtedly, India is seen by the US as the anchor of regional economic and security cooperation, not only in South Asia, but also beyond it.

Husain Haqqani probably summed up the visit best when he wrote ‘President Donald Trump’s visit to India marks the culmination of the process of transforming India’s relations with the United States into what the then President Barack Obama described as “the defining partnership of the 21st century”.’

It is time a delusional Pakistan saw the writing on the wall.