Donald Trump’s win has been received with shock and wariness in Afghanistan and Pakistan as politicians fretted about how he may change long-standing US foreign policy, while the public worried what his anti-Muslim campaign rhetoric would mean for them.
Social media platforms reverberated with people mocking American voters for electing a racist president and interpreted it as the beginning of the US’ decline as the world’s dominant power. Others were concerned that a Christian-versus-Muslim clash of civilisations would result from Trump’s victory, with many Pakistanis asking relatives living in the US whether they planned to return home to avoid a social backlash.
Mosharraf Zaidi, an education activist who moved to Pakistan from the US a decade ago, tweeted: “At what time should I start calling friends and family in the US to ask them how my moving to Pakistan is looking now?”
Political concerns revolved around the possibility of Trump ordering a pullout of US troops from Afghanistan or taking punitive measures against Pakistan for its failure to act against Afghan Taliban factions and India-focused militants based on its soil.
But US ambassador Michael McKinley assured journalists in Kabul that “Afghanistan will remain at the highest levels of our foreign policy agenda”. A similar statement was issued by the US ambassador to Pakistan, David Hale.
A Trump presidency may not be as isolationist or unpredictable in its approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan as many expect. He inherits a war in Afghanistan made unwinnable by “structural deficiencies in the Afghan army and police, which are declining in size due to attrition”, said Arif Rafiq, a fellow at the Centre for Global Policy, a Washington think-tank.
But that does not mean he will order the withdrawal of 8,400 US troops from Afghanistan, prolonged by President Barack Obama after Taliban insurgents made significant gains in 2015, when Afghan forces took over the lead security role from Nato. In its reaction to the election results, the Afghan Taliban called on Trump to pull out all US troops.
“I imagine he would be inclined to accelerate the US troop drawdown, though at the same time I could envision him using a counter-terrorism argument to slow down the drawdown – particularly if the Islamic State continues to claim attacks there,” said Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Centre.
Similarly, the wild-card rhetoric of the Trump campaign may not translate into a hard line towards Pakistan. Trump’s only pointed reference to Pakistan was made in April, amid moves in Congress to block three quarters of annual US military assistance for Pakistan’s counter-terrorism operations. Speaking at a town-hall meeting in Indianapolis, Trump cited the need for stability in nuclear-armed Pakistan, where a militant insurgency has raged for a decade, as his rationale for continuing financial assistance to Pakistan.
“It is very much against my grain to say that, but a country – and that’s always the country, I think, you know, we give them money and we help them out, but if we don’t, I think that would go on the other side of the ledger and that could really be a disaster,” Trump had said, without elaborating.
For the time being, Pakistani politicians are hoping Trump’s more common election campaign rhetoric won’t be reflected in his presidential decisions. “I hope when he speaks through his actions it’ll be for global good,” tweeted the Pakistani prime minister’s brother, Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of the populous Punjab province.