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Trump triggers new ‘Great Game’ in South Asia BY ADIL NAJAM

Trump triggers new ‘Great Game’ in South Asia

 

 

Speaking at Fort Myer last week, the president promised that “American strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia will change dramatically.” In Afghanistan, it is unlikely to. In South Asia, it already has – in deep but disturbing ways and mostly because of what President Donald Trump had to say about Pakistan.

Here’s how the stakes, consequences and options for each of the major players in South Asia have been transformed.

The speech left Pakistan hurt and angry.

The country’s foreign minister, Khawaja Asif, was livid at President Trump’s threatening tone and words, claiming that his country’s “sacrifices” as an American coalition partner were “disregarded and disrespected.” Pakistan’s National Security Council (NSC), which includes both the prime minister and the military chief, echoed the consensus in Pakistan that both Washington, D.C. and Kabul are bent on “scapegoating” Pakistan for their own failures.

 

Remarkably for Pakistan, President Trump seems to have united a deeply divided country. Government, opposition, military and civil society are all equally offended. All point out how Pakistan itself has had to spend many times more of its own resources in fighting America’s war than whatever America may have provided: 70,000 casualties, 17,000 Pakistanis killed; a nation living in constant fear of Taliban terrorism; an economy devastated to the tune of over $100 billion.

Of course, American allegations that Taliban encampments exist in Pakistan are not new. But President Trump has refused to recognize that Pakistan’s struggles to eliminate them are no less challenging than Afghanistan’s or America’s efforts within Afghanistan. This has been seen as particularly disingenuous.

 

 

 

 

Given the timing, tone and especially the fawning overtures toward India, Pakistanis read President Trump’s speech as the newest episode of abandonment from the nation’s longest but most fickle ally.

Privately, Pakistan and the United States have each long considered the other to be equally unreliable. With President Trump signaling that America will now look elsewhere, Pakistan feels compelled to do the same. Both China and Russia have been quick to exploit the chasm, advancing their own deep interests not only in Afghanistan but in greater South Asia.

Even before Pakistan had made any response to President Trump’s speech, the Chinese, already wildly popular in Pakistan for investing heavily in its infrastructure, responded with an official statement calling Pakistan an “all-weather friend” and thanking it for its “great sacrifices” in the fight against terrorism.

Not to miss the opportunity, Russia’s presidential envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, proclaimed that Pakistan is “a key regional player,” the pressurizing of whom could “result in negative consequences for Afghanistan.”

In Pakistan, such statements and the speed with which they came have been viewed as evidence that Pakistan does have choices, i.e., it may be time for Pakistan to move out of the U.S. orbit and seek deeper alliances elsewhere. Pakistan’s foreign minister, for example, immediately postponed his planned visit to Washington. This is not simply to register displeasure, but to gain time to visit other capitals and explore alternative options.

India’s initial reaction, not surprisingly, was to gloat. Its narrative about Pakistan was thoroughly embraced in President Trump’s speech. However, this is a gift horse they are likely to examine more carefully. Being anointed America’s sheriff in South Asia brings with it a new stress to their already-strained relations with China.

It is inevitable for tension to grow between these two Asian behemoths, but India would clearly have preferred to plan out the timing and terms of the escalation itself.

President Trump’s message to India that it “makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States, and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan,” is likely to be met with nothing more than a polite smile from New Delhi. There is certainly no likely relieffor the American taxpayer in how much they have to pay to keep dysfunctional governments in Kabul in place even while 40 percent of Afghanistan remains under Taliban control.

But the biggest consequence of President Trump’s South Asia strategy is that it gives India a license to elevate a new proxy conflict with Pakistan in Afghanistan. Pakistan is clearly terrified of being trapped in a pincer squeeze on its eastern and western borders by its arch nemesis, India.

But Afghanistan, as recent statements from its former president, Hamid Karzai, suggest, can also not be thrilled by the prospect of yet another major power becoming entrenched in yet another “Great Game.”

Therein lies what is truly new and frightening in Donald Trump’s South Asia strategy.

For the entirety of the last seven decades – including throughout the Cold War, when India was firmly ensconced as a Soviet ally – the American goal in South Asia was, above all, to maintain regional stability. The aim was to avoid and to actively resist tensions in a region that was a powder keg well before India decided to go rogue with nuclear weapons, and Pakistan followed suit. As of last week, the new American policy is to pit neighbor against neighbor in South Asia.

One day, one hopes, someone will explain to President Trump, like Chinese President Xi Jinping did about why North Korea is “complicated,” why the India-Pakistan relationship really is as fraught with danger as it is.

Meanwhile, an abdication of America’s traditional stabilizing role in South Asia has been announced. Afghanistan that will get kicked around the most, as five of the six largest militaries in the world (China, India, the United States, Russia and Pakistan), all nuclear, jockey for advantage in whatever the new South Asian balance of alliances might become.

Let us all hope that the unimaginable remains unimagined.

Adil Najam is the founding dean of the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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The Dismal Cartography of the Pre-Fascist State by Richard Falk in Counterpunch

The Dismal Cartography of the Pre-Fascist State

Photo by badlyricpolice | CC BY 2.0


Points of Departure

Listening to Donald Trump’s inaugural speech on January 20th led me to muse about what it might mean to live in a pre-fascist state. After reflecting on key passages and conversations with friends, I came to the view that all the elements were in place, although set before us with the imprecision of a demagogue.

Yet I do not doubt that there are many ideologues waiting in the wings, perhaps now comfortably situated in the West Wing, ready to cover the conceptual rough spots, and supply an ideological overlay, and add the semblance of coherence.

Considering the daily outrages emanating from the White House since the inaugural jolt, the coming years will be rough riding for all of us, with many cruelties being readied for those most vulnerable.

Of course, the Woman’s March on January 21st was temporarily redemptive, and if such energy can be sustained potentially transformative. It is odd to contemplate, but there just may be tacit and effective cooperation between the national security deep state and a progressive populism converging around their divergent reasons for being deeply opposed to the shock and awe of the Trump presidency. Trump may invent ‘alternative facts’ to restore his narcissistic self-esteem, but when it comes to the program he has sadly so far been true to his word! This alone should encourage a unified, energetic, and determined opposition. If the Tea Party could do it, why can’t we?

The Pre-Fascist Moment

First, it is necessary to set forth the case for viewing Trump’s Inaugural Address as a pre-fascist plea:

1) Locating power and legitimacy in the people, but only those whose support was instrumental in the election of the new president; the popular majority that were opposed are presumed irrelevant, or worse;

2) Denigrating the political class of both political parties as corrupt and responsible for the decline of the country and the hardships inflicted on his followers;

3) Presuming mass and unconditional trust in the great leader who promises a rupture with the past, and who alone will be able overcome the old established order, and produce needed changes at home and overseas;

4) Making the vision of change credible by the appointment of mainly white men, most with alt-right credentials, billionaires either blissfully ignorant about their assigned roles or a past record of opposition to the bureaucratic mission they are pledged to carry out (whether environment, energy, education, economy);

5) An endorsement of exclusionary nationalism that elevates ‘America First’ to the status of First Principle, erects a wall against its Latino neighbour, adopts a cruel and punitive stance toward Muslims and undocumented immigrants, hostility to womens’ rights, trans dignity, as well as posing threats to non-white minorities, inner city residents, and independent voices in the media and elsewhere;

6) Lauds the military and police as the backbone of national character, loosens protection from civilian or military abuse, which helps explain the selection of a series of generals to serve in sensitive civilian roles, as well as the revitalization of Guantanamo and the weakening of anti-torture policies.

7) The disturbing absence of a sufficiently mobilized anti-fascist opposition movement, leadership, and program. The Democratic Party has not seized the moment vigorously and creatively; progressive populist leadership has yet to emerge inspiring trust and hope; so far there are sparks but no fire.

Fortunately, there are some more encouraging tendencies that could mount anti-fascist challenges from within and below:

1) Trump lost the popular vote, casting a cloud over his claimed mandate to be the vehicle of ‘the people.’ Furthermore, his approval rating keeps falling, and is now below 40% according to reliable polls.

2) The signs of intense dissatisfaction are giving rise to protest activities that are massive and seem deeply rooted in beliefs and commitments of ordinary citizens, especially women and young people;

3) American society is not in crisis, and right-wing extremist appeals are forced to rely on a greatly exaggerated and misleading portrayal of distress in the American economy, the evils of economic globalization and unfair trade relations that are widely understood to be largely ‘fake’;

4) There are fissures within the Republican Party and governmental/think tank establishments, especially on international economic and security policy, that could produce escalating tensions within and challenges to the Trump leadership;

5) There is growing dissatisfaction within the bipartisan intelligence and national security bureaucracies as whether Trump and Trumpism can be tamed before it wrecks the post-1945 international order that rests on America’s global military presence, a global network of alliances, and a disposition toward a second cold war focused on hostility to Russia; if untamed, impeachment scenarios will soon surface, based not on the real concerns, but constructed around economic conflicts of interests, emoluments, and unlawful transactions.

Certainly in my lifetime, with the possible exception of the Great Depression, America has not been tested as it is now. Maybe not since the American Civil War has so much been at stake, and put at risk.

Traditional reliance on political parties and elections will not be helpful until the political climate is radically altered by forces from below and without or above and within. It is strange, but the two main forces of resistance to the pre-fascist reality menacing the country’s and the world’s future are progressive populism as evident in the widespread grassroots protest movement taking shape in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s ascension to the presidency, and the deep state as exhibited by the anti-Trump defection of intelligence and national security specialists from both Republican and Democratic ranks during and after the recent presidential campaign.

Finally, the depiction of the present political reality as ‘pre-fascist’ rather than ‘fascist’ is crucial to this effort to depict accurately the historical moment associated with Donald Trump’s formal induction as the 45th president of the United States.

To speak as if the United States is a fascist state is to falsify the nature of fascism, and to discredit critical discourse by making it seem hysterical. There is no doubt that the pieces are in place that might facilitate a horrifying transition from pre-fascism to fascism, and it could happen with lightning speed. It is also sadly true that the election of Donald Trump makes fascism a sword of Damocles hanging by a frayed thread over the American body politic.

Yet we should not overlook the quite different realities that pertain to pre-fascism.

It remains possible in the United States to organize, protest, and oppose without serious fears of reprisals or detentions. The media can expose, ridicule, and criticize without closures or punitive actions, facing only angered and insulting Trump tweets, although such a backlash should not be minimized as it could have a dangerous intimidating impact on how the news is reported.

We are in a situation where the essential political challenge is to muster the energy and creativity to construct a firewall around constitutional democracy as it now exists in the United States, and hope that a saner, more humane political mood leads quickly and decisively to repudiate those policies and attitudes that flow from this pre-fascist set of circumstances.

Richard Falk is an American professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University. He just completed a six-year term as United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights. Falk is an associate at the Transnational Foundation for Future Research, where this essay originally appeared. 

Courtesy: Counterpunch

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