American Presidential Elections get international attention because of worldwide interest in who is going to become the most powerful leader on the international stage. The last in 2012 were less exciting than usual, because of the widespread belief that President Obama would be re-elected. We are now witnessing party primary elections in the US, in which a flamboyant billionaire with a mercurial temperament, Donald Trump, has captured worldwide attention.

Trump owns a network of hotels, casinos, golf courses and other properties. He has paradoxically, struck a chord among blue-collared workers, who feel their jobs are threatened by immigrants. His populist response has been to advocate building a wall across the US-Mexico border and banning immigration of Muslims.

The players

Hillary Clinton’s primary opponent, former Senator Bernie Sanders has, likewise, espoused the cause of ending free trade arrangements and called for tighter control over Wall Street. Sanders alleges that unemployed and blue collar workers suffer because of excessive trade liberalisation and the unholy nexus between politicians (including Clinton) and the financial, business and industrial barons of Wall Street. The tactics Trump and Sanders have adopted have won huge support from insecure blue dollar workers, making life difficult and the competition unexpectedly tough, for Clinton. Despite this, Clinton is expected to win the Democratic Party nomination. Trump could likewise sail through as the candidate of the Republican Party, which could land itself in a mess if its establishment chooses to ignore the political verdict and nominates an eminent party politician to replace Trump as its Presidential candidate.

Trump has moved far away from the Republican Party in his views on several foreign policy issues. He has criticised military intervention in Iraq, Syria and Libya and voiced his opposition to such intervention abroad. He remains ambivalent on his approach to Israel, though he will fall in line with conventional thinking on the Jewish state.

Interestingly, Trump vows to build bridges with President Vladimir Putin, while Clinton remains steadfastly hostile to the Russian leader. Both Clinton and Trump have suspicions and misgivings about China, with Trump repeatedly asserting that China got rich at the cost of American industry and its working class. The two frontrunners hold opposing views on liberalising trade, with Trump claiming that liberalisation damages the livelihood of American workers.

While Trump has expressed serious misgivings and suspicions about the Islamic world in general, he has expressed specific reservations about the behaviour of Pakistan. Quite unexpectedly, Trump has answered his critics on their charge that he is anti-immigrant and racist, by suggesting that he has great admiration for Indians, who are hard working, intelligent and innovative. He has suggested that Indian students who come for studies in American universities should be allowed to stay on and work.

Not in our interest

The eight years of the Bill Clinton presidency included some of the worst years in India-US relations. The Clinton administration turned the heat on India to give up its nuclear programme. It pressurised Russia to end space cooperation with India. It promoted a worldwide effort to cripple our economy after our nuclear tests and failed. In its early years, the Clinton administration even made overtures to the Hurriyat in Kashmir.

On the other hand, the Bush presidency saw a remarkable turnaround in India-US relations. American pressure after 9/11, forced the Musharraf dispensation to sue for a ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir and end cross-border infiltration. This continued till the last days of the Bush presidency. Global nuclear sanctions against India ended, as the Bush administration used all its persuasive powers to get the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group to end sanctions on India. Shortly thereafter, at US initiative, India was welcomed into new global economic forums, such as the G20.

While Obama had pledged to strengthen the US-India strategic partnership, his approach to India has been largely transactional, seeking greater Indian purchases of US weapons, while doing very little to turn the squeeze on Pakistan to end terrorism targeting India and Afghanistan. Intelligence sharing with India has been episodic and sometimes duplicitous, given the delay and reluctance, with which intelligence information on the revelations of David Headley was shared with us.

More importantly, the US is actively partnering Pakistan and China to bring about “reconciliation” with the Taliban. Well-placed Afghans complain bitterly of the pressures they are facing from this US-China-Pakistan axis. Interestingly, even some in the Obama administration, are concerned about what is transpiring.

Ulterior motives

The world is seeing an opportunistic move by the Obama administration to persuade India to back the US efforts to rein in the Chinese in the Western Pacific, given China’s expanding maritime border claims on South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc. At the same time, the Obama administration is joining China and turning a blind eye to Pak-sponsored terrorism in Afghanistan. What the administration is thereby doing, is to seek India’s support to curb Chinese maritime claims in the Asia-Pacific, even as its colludes with China to determine the future of Afghanistan, in a manner that furthers Pakistan’s regional ambitions. There has been much talk, but little action by the Obama administration, to curb Pakistan sponsored terrorism.

Hillary Clinton has taken a personal interest in relations with India. Unlike her husband and John Kerry, her viscerally anti-Indian successor, as Secretary of State, Hillary did respond in a friendly manner to India’s concerns and policies.

This was evident in her approach to India’s role in the Asean Regional Forum. She chose to call a spade a spade, when it came to Pak-sponsored terrorism leading to the emergence of extremist outfits that threatened Pakistan itself, with the words: “You cannot nurture Vipers in your backyard and expect that they will bite only your neighbour”. So, India can expect a more mutually beneficial relationship with the US, after the coming Presidential elections.

The writer is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan

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