Trump on Pakistan and Countering Islamist Terrorism
Dr Farhan Zahid
Counter-Terrorism and Security Analyst (Pakistan).
GOP’s candidate Donald Trump’s electoral victory has indeed raised many eyebrows in Pakistan. Pakistan Stock Exchange tumbled by 800 points amid Trump victory. There remained an apparent calm in higher echelons of Pakistani elite for a brief period over the situation. Later, Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff called the president-elect to congratulate him and then things started to smoothen up. The primary cause of distress was perhaps President Trump’s pro-India statements during the presidential campaign. President Trump’s hardline statements during presidential campaign concerning Muslims in general, and at times about Pakistan, are now being scrutinized and discussed in detail as only a few analysts had anticipated Trump paving his way to the White House.
How the Trump phenomenon would take place, and how the new president would reformulate policies concerning Muslims (read Islamist terrorism) and Pakistan (also concerning terrorism) are much talked about issues in Pakistan. President Trump has already presented a broad local agenda which would take priority over foreign policy shift and apparently the policy measures proposed by the President during campaign may not take any shape and President Obama era policies would continue for at least any new significant development such as a major Islamist terrorist attack on US soil.
Obama era counter terrorism policy measure of targeting high value Al-Qaeda and Taliban targets through drone strikes inside Pakistani territory would likely to continue with improvised vigor. The Obama administration dealt Pakistan quite tactfully and even presence of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was calculatedly tolerated in May 2016, even after Operation Neptune Spear which had taken place in Abbottabad in May 2011. It would be interesting to see Trump administration handling its relations with Pakistan amid such scenario.
Starting with a stern stance against Muslims and immigration, the Trump agenda seemed to nose-dive as the campaign progressed and, in its final days, the issues came close to take backseat. Islamist terrorist incidents on American soil in 2015 and 2016 perhaps kept some rhetoric on. Though Trump’s campaign managers managed to calibrate the tone of their candidate amid a barrage of criticism concerning his remarks, Islamist terrorist incidents in US during campaigning period may have kept the voters abreast on the issue.
Trump on Islamist Terrorism
Another issue on which President Trump appears to be tough on is Islamist terrorism. The issue is related to Pakistan as Al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban have originated from Pakistan and a plethora of Islamist terrorist organizations operate in Pakistan, damaging Pakistan and creating havoc globally. Trump compares fighting radical Islam with past challenges of defeating Nazism, Fascism and Communism. One of the issues initiated during the earliest phases of Trump’s campaign was related to Islamist terrorism and preventive measures related to it. Firstly, unlike President Obama and Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton, Trump referred to Islamist terrorism as radical Islam and had considered it a major issue during his campaign. In his policy speech on proposed strategy for dealing with radical, Islam Trump emphasized on initiating concerted measures while taking regional allies and Russia aboard. Trump’s strategy on defeating Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) is also based on same policy initiatives. He proposed an international conference on the issue with regional allies : Jordan, Israel and Egypt. He said : « My Administration will aggressively pursue joint and coalition military operations to crush and destroy ISIS, international cooperation to cut- off their funding, expanded intelligence sharing, and cyber warfare to disrupt and disable their propaganda and recruiting. »
Whereas defeating ISIS remains the primary agenda for Trump’s counter-terrorism policy, he also stresses on defeating Al-Qaeda, the parent organization of ISIS, and also he emphasizes on financially choking Hezbollah and Hamas. While explaining his modus operandi for defeating Islamist terrorism, Trump has stated using military, cyber and financial warfare by as well as UN Security Resolutions. Taking on Islamist ideology in the same manner as communism was defeated was another critical agenda of Trump’s war on radical Islam. He clearly stated, « To defeat Islamic terrorism, we must also speak out forcefully against a hateful ideology that provides the breeding ground for violence and terrorism to grow« . He further explained his eloquence, « »But I am talking about radical Islamic terrorism. I will solve it better than anyone else running, »
On the other hand Trump agenda is to further foster relations with moderate Muslim-majority countries. ISIS-pledged duo Syed Farouk and Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people in a mass shooting in San Bernardino in December 2015 after which Trump demanded a total ban on Muslims entering the country though temporarily. He further reiterated after Orlando shooting in which ISIS-linked Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded another 53 at a gay night club in Orlando, Florida, on June 13, 2016. He said, « We have to do it. It will be lifted, this ban, when as a nation we’re in a position to properly and perfectly screen these people coming into our country. They’re pouring in and we don’t know what we’re doing (…).The Muslims have to work with us » Trump said. « They know what is going on. »
Trump on Pakistan
Pakistan was not among the top agenda items during election campaign, though earlier President did tweet about Pakistan. In fact, Pakistanis were worried about pro-Indian statements of President Trump and Indian lobby’s support to GOP candidate during the campaign, which is factually not true. Trump does have some very strong views on Pakistan, though appears to be changing now. Terming Pakistan a « semi-unstable state » and the one that « double-dealt us » while describing India as « if you look at India and some of the others, maybe they’ll be helping us out, because we’re going to look at it. We have many, many countries that we give a lot of money to and we get absolutely nothing in return. »
His on record statements on banning ‘Muslims from entering the US’ or at a later stage he revised his statement with a ‘temporary ban until things figure out’ turned matters of grave concerns in Pakistan when he said, « We must suspend immigration from regions linked with terrorism until a proven vetting method is in place » which obviously disturbs Pakistan.
In an another policy remark he described Pakistan as a « vital problem for the US » as the country « have a thing called nuclear weapons » and his administration would definitely like to « have to get a better hold of the situation. » Even earlier, while talking to India’s NDTV in 2011 he clearly stated that he may pull-back on aid to Pakistan until it did away with its nuclear weapons, while dumping long-term US-Pakistan relations as « they are not friends of ours. (There are) plenty of other terrorists in Pakistan, we know that. » The same is reflective in earlier tweet on Pakistan « When will Pakistan apologize to us for providing safe sanctuary to Osama Bin Laden for 6 years?! Some « ally » in July 2012.
During two terms of Obama administration, Pakistan-US relations experienced many ups and downs. There had been hopes for furthering the relations after the Kerry-Lugar bill passed by the US Congress in 2009, and then came very rocky patch of upsetting events such as Raymond Davis Incident in Feb 2011, Operation Neptune Spear in May 2011, US bombing of Salala Post – in which 27 Pakistan Army soldiers were killed – in November 2011, and parallel to these events, the growing warmth between Indo-US ties during the same period ; even more disturbing for powerful Pakistani military, a major powerbroker in Pakistan. The Trump era would be interesting as far as the administration’s policy towards Pakistan and Afghanistan are concerned and how the Trump administration deals with the problem of terrorism in the region. One thing is apparent that the Trump administration would sternly deal with Islamist terrorism and the tilt towards India is indicative of the fact that the administration is planning to support any country fighting Islamist terrorism. Pakistan may also benefit from this provided the Pakistani policy makers prepare their case in an efficient manner and market their case as a terrorism-ravaged country, which is in fact a hard reality.
-  « Pakistan stocks nose dive nearly 800 points after Donald Trump’s victory », Times of India, November 9, 2016, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/Pakistan-stocks-nose-dive-nearly-800-points-after-Donald-Trumps-victory/articleshow/55335758.cms
-  Full speech: Donald Trump addresses Radical Islamic Terrorism, The Hill. http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/presidential-campaign/291498-full-transcript-donald-trump-addresses-radical
-  Ibid
-  « Donald Trump’s popular statements about Pakistan, Muslims », Pakistan Today, November 9, 2016,
-  « Donald J Trump Statement on Preventing Muslim Immigration », Official Website of Trump-Pence Presidential Campaign, https://www.donaldjtrump.com/press-releases/donald-j.-trump-statement-on-preventing-muslim-immigration
-  Tessa Berenson, « Donald Trump Pushes for Muslim Ban After Orlando Shooting », Times, June 13, 2016,
-  « Donald Trump says may seek India’s help on ‘unstable’ Pakistan nukes » Hindu, April 26, 2016,
-  « Donald Trump says may seek India’s help on ‘unstable; Pakistan nukes », Hindu, April 28, 2016, http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/trump-says-may-seek-indias-help-on-unstable-pakistan-nukes/article8531485.ece
-  « How Donald Trump’s Plan to Ban Muslims have Evolved », Fortune, June 28, 2016, http://fortune.com/2016/06/28/donald-trump-muslim-ban/
-  « Donald Trump’s popular statements about Pakistan, Muslims », Pakistan Today, November 9, 2016, http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2016/11/09/national/donald-trumps-popular-statements-about-pakistan-muslims/
-  Ibid
-  Shubhodeep Chakravarty, « Donald Trump wins: What it could mean for Pakistan », Times of India, November 9, 2016, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/united-states-elections-2016-us-elections-news-results-polls/Donald-Trump-wins-What-it-may-mean-for-Pakistan/articleshow/55331638.cms