Making sense of Donald | Shahzad Chaudhry


I never thought I would pen two consecutive pieces on Donald Trump, but this one is inspired more by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nafees Zakaria’s incessant efforts at trying to place Pakistan’s relations with Donald’s US in Donald’s world.

Pity poor David Hale, the US ambassador, who has an even bigger task of explaining his country under the new setup to the ever fragile Pakistani official make-up that determines its own health through American eyes.

It’s been a busy week for all with respect to US-Pakistan relations. Here’s how it goes. One morning, out of nowhere, Pakistan decided to detain and proscribe Hafiz Saeed, the head of Jamaatud Dawah (to some the LeT). The action was taken under UNSC Resolution 1267 which came about in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. It was thus a decade and a half late in terms of compliance. The JuD was added to it in 2008, which means the action against the JuD came eight years late, and Hafiz Saeed himself was slapped with a ten million dollar head-money in 2012 by the US. This thus made any action on his person late by about five years.

Clearly the question then: why now? Especially when, following the 2008 Mumbai attack, the JuD chief had been incarcerated under immense Indian pressure to appease Indian sensitivities and yet in each instance courts threw the case out for being void of legal basis. The Mumbai case against seven JuD workers has also now adjourned for eternity – there being no material progress for lack of any concrete evidence that can link their persons to what happened then in Mumbai.

It was a clear mismatch from the very beginning. The crime scene was India; that is where the evidence existed and that is where the trial was conducted. The lone witness, Ajmal Kasab, and a couple more said to have facilitated the attackers were all in India but would not be given access to Pakistani prosecutors or defence lawyers. Instead dossiers upon dossiers of written pages were exchanged; because of absent evidentiary value without further testimony, they were the first thing thrown out by the courts. The case thus lumbers on in a clear misdirection because of a possibility of miscarriage of process as well as justice were the courts to ramrod a decision based on any kind of pressure.

Till, of course, something gave and Hafiz Saeed was apprehended under a, till now, long forgotten international treaty towards elimination of terrorism. This when Donald himself is finding it difficult to explain to others how he may like to eliminate ‘Islamic terror from the face of this earth’. His bigger problem is an inadequate team comprising mostly of his campaign men who have now taken station in all the important offices of the White House but know zilch about policy. Their exhortation is increasingly being understood as policy. So if it is ‘Mr white’, Stephen Bannon, he has his own brand to spew while Sean Spicer is the mouthpiece who sounds those exhortations to the world. The cabinet secretaries are yet not fully in place and the administration is shorn of policy structures. It must then do with those in the president’s retinue. Together they make for the vision that Donald is.

It is thus that Pakistan enters the act. The seven nations that were to be excommunicated from the US did not include Pakista; that surprised our Foreign Office. That also opened a window of doing something that just might thaw the anger within Donald’s mind about Pakistan’s credentials – touted by him while expressing his support to his future bosom buddy, Narendra Modi. Just to refresh: when asked during the campaign how he would tackle a difficult and nuclear Pakistan, he had suggested that he would let India take care of that little problem there. Shackling Saeed would surely ensure against possible malfeasance, real or perceived.

Let’s not get too cocky about the base nobility that drives Donald’s mind-games or for that matter the niceties that Modi will bring to the Donald-Modi nexus, for they can be toxic and vile when they come together. Donald would like India to do something about Pakistan, and Modi would have a list of options – choosing the dirtiest and the most dangerous to execute to wash off all the slights that India may have suffered in kind and mind. Now if that hurtles uncontrolled down the slippery slope making escalation dominance too complex for Donald, it will force on him a certain ‘Houston’ moment too early in his tenure. North Korea, just by itself, is a handful.

But I have gotten too far ahead of Nafees Zakaria. I think having saved grace in the first Donald assault, Pakistan decided to pre-empt Donald’s sequel. In that it has, by incarcerating Saeed, shown the goodness of the state. Modi’s main refrain against Pakistan too has been shelved for the moment, though another one still might appear; he is ingenuous enough. So hardly a policy decision, as both the military spokesman and Zakaria propounded, but a knee-jerk meant to pre-empt what may be coming next. This is policy driven by fear and apprehension. India can be trusted to give more causes to Donald to leash or lash Pakistan with, and there are a few – Dawood Ibrahim, Masood Azhar and for the US itself Shakil Afridi and the Haqqani Network. But these are fears of an ordinary mind, except the last on the list which will need a more complex treatment.

Donald is no Donald if he conforms to the known. Nor would he be a billionaire if he couldn’t ‘create’ and then fail to ‘make’ a deal. Trust him on both. Given so, would he settle for some ‘inconsequentials’ at the level of the ‘bigly’ objectives he seeks? To India he would like to sell more and get some honey in return. And then irk China enough to slow its economy down. This when China may also be grappling with a more assertive neighbourhood in the South China Sea, enough to drive its focus away from its economic trail. At the same time, by correlating India’s power with Pakistan he may be able to leverage more out of Pakistan in return for a shoulder. Afridi may only be the spare change in the ‘bigly’ matters of Haqqanis, the tactical nukes and – yes – containing China’s spread.

The weaker Pakistan appears, the more it will give away. The ‘art of the deal’ suggests that whatever may seem vulnerable and thus appropriate to shed must be so done but at favourable terms. We incarcerated Hafiz Saeed only on an apprehension, guilt and fear driving our action than bartering for a reasonable return. No man is bigger than the collective national good. If Pakistan can manage a packaged good for what seems shed-able, the deal would have been well executed. Rather than fear, Pakistan’s leadership should be mastering the nuances of making good deals. With Donald’s America that may be the way ahead for the foreseeable future.

Senior Analyst Shahzad Chaudhry Article