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Unacceptable cynicism

In a democratic system, heads of government and ruling parties are invariably subjected to critical appraisal from the opposition, media and intelligentsia who collectively play the role of a watchdog. Critical appraisal means highlighting the merits and demerits of the government policies and the actions of the head of the government in an earnest manner. This process safeguards and promotes national interests and ensures the well-being of the masses.

Looking askance at government policies and criticising leaders for their un-ceremonial conduct is considered a positive contribution towards removing and rectifying the inadequacies of government initiatives. But when those entrusted with acting as watchdogs assume the role of avowed detractors of the government, shutting their eyes to the positives of its actions, they descend into the realm of unwarranted cynicism.

A case in point is the comments and opinions expressed about the first-ever telephonic conversation between US President-elect Donald Trump and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Instead of treating the episode as a diplomatic practice and an exchange of courtesies, attempts have been made to read too much between the lines and give a spin to the contents of the conversation. More often than not, this has gone to the extent of even challenging the veracity of the conversation.

The fact that the US government has neither contradicted the contents nor objected to the release of the conversation between the two leaders proves the veracity of the conversation. The release of the contents of the conversation is not a rare occurrence in the realm of diplomacy and does not serve as a breach of diplomatic norms. There are innumerable instances of conversations between the heads of states or governments made public through the media. The tone and tenor of the words reportedly uttered by Donald Trump is typical of his style of saying things.

Trump also said some positive things about the people of Pakistan and the opportunities that the country offers, apart from the exchange of niceties which are the subject of criticism and all kinds of interpretations. According to the press release issued by the Press Information Department, Donald Trump also said “your country is amazing with tremendous opportunities. Pakistanis are one of the most intelligent people. I am ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems”.

Why did critics choose to neglect this part of the conversation? Trump’s discourse was a marked departure from the unsavoury remarks he made during his presidential campaign. It also implies his willingness to play a role in resolving the Kashmir issue. Vice-President elect Mike Pence’s remarks, during an interview with NBC, were in the same vein as Trump’s approach regarding the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. He reportedly said, “I think what the president-elect expressed in conversation with leaders from both countries was a desire for continued US engagement on building the relationship with both of those countries”.

Recent claims that the conversation was released as a ploy to prop up the prime minister’s image at home at a time when he is facing corruption charges also seems preposterous. It could very well have been an attempt to soothe the nerves of those who entertained apprehensions regarding relations between the two countries under Trump’s administration. The interaction between the two leaders should have been construed as a normal diplomatic practice of greeting newly-elected leaders and should not have been used to foment unnecessary controversy.

While it is encouraging to hear that the US president-elect is willing to play a role in the resolution of the Kashmir issue, his word cannot be taken at face value. During his first electoral campaign, Obama vowed to play a role in the resolution of the Kashmir issue. However, when he assumed charge and was briefed by the establishment about US policies and its strategic interests in the region, the issue was put on the backburner. The US administration has restricted itself to advising both India and Pakistan to take steps at the bilateral level to defuse tensions between them as well as resolve the Kashmir issue. It has steered clear of playing a mediatory role in view of the failure of the bilateral mechanism.

US policy on Kashmir is likely to remain the same even under Trump. The strategic partnership between India and the US in the region; US commercial interests in India; US policy to prop up India as a counterbalance to China; and their collaboration in checking Chinese influence in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean will continue to dictate the US tilt towards India instead of Pakistan.

There will hardly be any appreciable change in the US policy on Afghanistan and its mantra of asking Pakistan to ‘do more’. It may even become louder. The US would nevertheless remain engaged with Pakistan in view of its geo-strategic importance. Pakistan also cannot afford a rupture in ties with the US and must therefore continue to pursue cooperation in mutually beneficial areas.

The best bet for Pakistan, in view of the existing and emerging realities, is to focus on its own region because its security and economic development are inextricably linked to this region. The policy of building regional linkages for shared prosperity being pursued by the present government is a visionary initiative.

The implementation of the CPEC, joining regional forums such as the SCO, reaching out to Central Asian states and improving relations with Russia can surely counter the negative effects of US-India collaboration on Pakistan.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: ashpak10@gmail.com

Malik Muhammad Ashraf, "Unacceptable cynicism," The News. 2016-12-12.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Democratic system , International relations , Politics-United States , Diplomacy , Politics , Securityissues , Donald Trump , PM Nawaz Sharif , United States , Pakistan , CPEC , SCO