Trump’s tweet about Pakistan: a bigger story

Trump’s tweet about Pakistan may have broader implications for South Asian relations.

President Trump often uses his Twitter account to propagate his political views and policies. Much of it can be attributed to his domestic political strategy, where he uses social media to provoke and distract the media. However, Trump also uses his Twitter account to present his foreign policy. We have already seen him do this with North Korea and the UN, but his most recent attack as been on Pakistan. Could this tweet be part of a bigger scheme for relations with South Asia?

The tweet: “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

The tweet in question gives a lot of information in 280 characters. In it he accuses Pakistan of giving Afghani terrorists safe haven while we have given them billion dollars in foreign aid. It’s a lofty accusation with an underlying threat: if you don’t deserve our aid, we won’t give it to you.

And this time he has followed through. On January 4th, the State Department reported it will freeze security aid to Pakistan [1]. It is unclear how much money will be withheld, but military aid to the country has been upwards of 255 million [2].

Of course, Pakistan denies supporting any terrorist organizations, and points to their own domestic terrorist issues. But Trump’s tweet may have already damaged the shaky relationship between the US and Pakistan. In response, a Pakistani legislator has said a national security committee is in review of the situation. Ayaz Sadiq, Speaker of Pakistan’s National Assembly, said in an interview that “a balanced response is needed that would preserve the country’s dignity while engaging with the US” [2].

Trump may have a broader goal in mind than simply seeming tough on terrorist apologists. Since his inauguration, Trump has shown an interest in supporting a relationship with India. In his first meeting with Prime Minister Modi, Trump reinforced the US/Indian bond stating that it has “never been stronger, has never been better” [3].

The two leaders have quite a lot in common: both have a sizable social media presence, both have been labelled as populist leaders, and each have put their country’s interests in the forefront of their policies, with Trump’s “America First” and Modi’s “Make in India” [3,4].

But their policies have also collided with each other. Trump’s “America First” policy has attempted to keep companies’ workforce on American soil, while Modi has been making a push for foreign companies to create industry in India. During the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, Trump accused India of taking federal aid money for a positive vote, while the US voted against the climate agreement. However, the two leaders have insisted on a strong relationship despite the differences [3].

While Trump attempts to create a partnership with India, could this Pakistan tweet be a way of strengthening that bond? Often Trump’s tweets are seen insignificant to true policy, but maybe he has a larger strategy for his relationship with South Asia.

If Trump is truly concerned about Afghani terrorists in Pakistan, then perhaps he is hoping a strong relationship with India could pressure Pakistan into acting within America’s sphere of influence. At the same time, a tweet against Pakistan could inherently strengthen a relationship with India, as India has often had similar accusations against Pakistan [5].

In an added bonus, the US and India both have unresolved conflict with China, and a common foreign policy could put stress on China’s international influence. As India shares a border with China (although it is often in dispute), a relationship with India could be beneficial to the US.

Already, Trump’s tweet has affected Pakistan and Chinese relations. Only a day after Trump’s attack on Twitter, the federal bank of Pakistan announced that the US dollar will be replaced with the yuan for trade and investment with China, sending a message that legitimizes China as the new economic power. And almost in response to Trump’s tweet, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that Pakistan has “made great efforts and sacrifices for combating terrorism” [6] showing that China has a strong interest in supporting the South Asian country.

The relationship between India and the US will no doubt become stronger as the two countries work together against their common enemies. But we are seeing a new trend in foreign policy being made over social media. We can no longer ignore Trump’s tweets and claim they are mere rants, but we must acknowledge their real effect on international relations. Trump obviously understands what he says does not exist in a vacuum, and he is using that to his advantage as it relates to politics in South Asia.

Elias Watts is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He has a BA in Political Science from Georgia State University, and has a strong interest in foreign policy and international relations.

Sources: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]

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