The U.S. Election & Its Reverberations in South Asia
By Ali Malik, Hamza Tariq Chaudhary, Konark Sikka
The whole world on the night of November 8th waited anxiously to see whom the American people would choose as the 45th President of the United States. In South Asia, people in India and Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal were eager to know who would lead the US after the departure of President Obama and how the next President would draft policy towards their respective countries.
Globalization has made the world interconnected and the events in one part of the world can affect political and economic realities in another. Furthermore, issues such as cyber security and terrorism have been ones that have been hot button issues, not only in the US, but in South Asia as well. Whether it be cyber security, terrorism, or trade, decisions in Washington have lasting impacts in Delhi, Islamabad, and Kabul. As the results of the election became clear, people through out South Asia were either joyful, surprised, or disappointed with the results.
Afghanistan-US relations were barely discussed in the US 2016 election. In recent years, the relationship has been framed around the US military’s involvement at supporting the Afghan regime against the Taliban and monetary aid for the ruling Afghan government.
Trade with Afghanistan has mostly consisted of US exports to the nation at the amount of $478.9 million and imports from Afghanistan at $23.5 million during the fiscal year of 2015.
President-elect Trump has indicated that he would pursue an ‘America First’ strategy, hoping to free up the budget to focus on domestic affairs implying that he might end America’s involvement within the South Asian nation. However, he has also indicated that he would continue to maintain an American presence within the country to keep an eye on Pakistan and its nuclear program.
The current president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, congratulated President-elect Trump on becoming the 45th President of the US and stated that “The government of Afghanistan hopes that in close cooperation with the new president of the United States, relations between the two countries expand further and develop in a way that is in the interest of the two countries and nations.” Analysts believe that a President Trump would continue to maintain close relations with Afghanistan through a military lens particularly due to his commitment in combatting terrorism and the Islamic State.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina congratulated President-Elect Trump the day after his victory and even extended an invitation to him to visit Bangladesh. Federation of Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry President, Abdul Matlub Ahmed believes that Trump’s victory gives Bangladesh the opportunity to negotiate duty-free access into the United States.
However, former ambassador to the United States, M. Humayun Kabir did express concerns over any potential immigration laws making it tough for Bangladeshis living in the Untied States.
Thimpu has two key concerns, both of which are shared by other countries in South Asia, immigration and climate change.
With respect to immigration –Bhutanese refugees in the US are concerned about their status in the aftermath of the recent elections. The Obama administration, had promised to resettle 60,000 Bhutanese refugees, and given them a legal status. President-elect Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has created grave concerns amongst this community, about the possibility of imminent deportation if Mr. Trump’s campaign rhetoric were to become policy.
With respect to Climate Change, Bhutan a prominent voice at the 2016 Paris Agreement, and a champion of environmental regulations, is concerned about what President-elect Trump’s policies are in this regard. During the campaign Mr. Trump came out vociferously against climate change but one has yet to see what policy his administration will adopt.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was amongst the first world leaders to congratulate President-elect Donald Trump on his election victory on Twitter, followed by a phone call. President-Elect Trump also enjoyed some support from Indian-Americans in the United States. These supporters of Trump organized a fundraiser held by the Republican Hindu Coalition and Shalabh Kumar, in New Jersey, which President-Elect Trump attended.
President-Elect Trump has been in favor of stronger immigration policies throughout his campaign. There is a fear by some over any restructuring of the visa rules and regulations affecting Indians, according to what Shivendra Singh, global trade development for the National Association of Software and Services Companies. According to the Reserve Bank of India, around 60% of India’s software services exports head towards the United States, but President-Elect Trump has called for taxes on companies that outsource, which would affect these exports. Furthermore, Jayadev Ranade, a foreign policy analyst has argued that Trump’s rhetoric suggests the US backing away militarily from East Asia, would be a negative for India. However, others are more optimistic, as Lalit Mansingh, a former Indian ambassador to the United States believes that Trump will be a stronger ally in the fight against terrorism.
The most significant concern for the Maldives government is how President-elect Trump – backed by a Republican Congress – deals with climate change agreements. President-elect Donald Trump has long insisted he would pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement. But Amjad Abdulla, chief negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States, said he expected Trump to do a "great job" delivering U.S. commitments on climate change. The Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, Maldives Energy Minster Thoriq Ibrahim was optimistic about climate change prospect even without US involvement: “Whatever happens, the international community is determined to go on.”
President- elect Trump’s vision is disengagement from foreign issues to divert more focus towards domestic issues. This could result in reduction in trade and aid benefits for countries like Nepal, including a drop in development assistance that Washington provides through USAID and Millennium Corporation Challenge. Outside of Nepal’s borders, there are millions of Nepalese working around the world. Analysts posit that an atypical change in US policy abroad could affect the political economy of East Asia and the Gulf where 2.5 million Nepali’s work and send remittance home.
The current US-Pakistan relationship has been on a steady decline since the start of the current decade and relations seem to continue on a downward trajectory. The current level of trade between Pakistan and the US accounted for a total of $5.5 billion within the 2015 fiscal year with Pakistan exporting $3.7 billion in goods and importing $1.8 billion in goods.
Relations between the two nations are expected to remain steady yet tense due to President-elect Trump’s statements during his campaign. President-elect Trump stated that he would arrange the release of Dr. Shakeel Afridi (responsible for identifying Osama Bin Ladin), would continue to station American troops in Afghanistan so that the US could keep an eye on ‘nuclear’ Pakistan, and indicated that he would be “honored” to help stabilize Indo-Pak relations as well as stating that any future aid to the nation would be dependent on Pakistan dismantling its nuclear program.
During the campaign cycle Mr. Trump repeatedly called for a ban on the entry of Muslims into the United States on grounds of what he termed were security reasons. In spite of the President-elect’s rhetoric and stance on Muslims, the leaders of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan congratulated him and hoped to work with him.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also congratulated President-Elect Trump on his victory. Most analysts believe the US-Pakistan relationship would have continued to deteriorate regardless of who won the presidency. However, the relationship may become one that is beneficial for Pakistan if only because Mr. Trump’s inexperience in foreign affairs may allow Pakistan extra room for maneuverability. It is also possible the relationship may become increasingly hostile, as a President Trump may prefer to focus on domestic issues.
In Sri Lanka, there has been no significant concern in the aftermath of the election. On November 9th Sri Lankan President Sirisena sent a congratulatory message to President-elect Trump.
From Colombo’s perspective it will be important to see how Mr. Trump’s administration views the ‘Tamil issue’ and how much support they receive for continued economic assistance from the US government and international financial institutions like IMF.