The White House has unveiled its federal spending priorities in what it is touting as the “America first budget”, where the President has made deep, offsetting cuts to key federal bodies, including the State Department, USAID, PBS, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Energy Department. The new budget proposal slashes billions of dollars from diplomacy, cutting international aid packages and diplomatic programs. In addition, it scales back funding for the World Bank and the United Nations—a move that can prove devastating for global American diplomacy.
Almost all state departments are allocated major cuts, except for one: defense.
President Trump called to boost military spending by 54 billion dollars. If the Trump campaign is anything to go by, this move is not out of character for the administration. However it still came as a bit of a shock. This is because America already spends more on defense than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Great Britain, France, India and Japan. In fact, the US military has the largest defense budget in the world, a staggering 600 billion dollars. Another area that holds Donald Trump’s interest is the border security situation with Mexico, which is also allocated a special spot in the budget.
Since the State Department will give up 28 percent of its existing budget according to Trump’s budget proposal, it is probable that it will have to downsize significantly. With major cuts to resources, it is likely that the Offices of the Special Representatives will be dissolved. This means the US will no longer benefit from policy, aid, and liaison services on topics of crucial concern, including the Af-Pak Region, North Korea policy, and nuclear non-proliferation.
The Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) is an important diplomatic position; it provides a channel to effectively coordinate with the US, and communicate Islamabad’s concerns and strategic goals in the region to Washington, and vice versa. A long-term Afghan resolution cannot be reached unless the US is involved both militarily and diplomatically. The dissolution of such a crucial channel can severely damage the US-Pak relationship, especially when both countries need effective and fluid communication on the Afghan conflict.
Pakistan has failed to make significant headway when it comes to outreach to the Trump team. PM Nawaz’s Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs, Tariq Fatemi, spent a week in Washington and reportedly failed to hold familiarization meetings with the Trump team. Later however reports followed saying that Fatemi did in fact meet with members of the Trump team, but was asked to keep the meeting details private.
According to reports, the job assigned to SRAP can also be handled by a section within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia—unfortunately, this is also under consideration for possible dissolution.
American aid has been gradually declining over the years. The new budget has proposed a cut in foreign aid by a whopping 28 percent.
Pakistan has already begun diversifying its diplomatic and strategic portfolio; it is acting practically by moving toward Russia and solidifying relations further with China.
China is investing heavily in Pakistan with CPEC and intends to invest more than $46 billion in energy and infrastructure projects in Pakistan by 2017-18. Russian President Vladimir Putin is also expected to visit Pakistan in mid-2017 to inaugurate a $2 billion oil pipeline.
As US aid drops, so will US-Pak Military cooperation. This has been a long time coming.
America’s refusal to finance F-16s under the Foreign Military Funding program led Pakistan to, for the first time, look to Russian military aircrafts. Russia is Pakistan’s rival, India’s strategic ally, which is why Russia and Pakistan have traditionally been wary of each other. However, various diplomatic overtures, in the last decade or so, have resulted in defense cooperation between Pakistan and Russia becoming an important component of bilateral relations.
Russia’s Federal Security Services chief, Alexander Bogdanov, met top Pakistani officials in a “secret meeting” last year. This was the first visit of a Russian intelligence agency’s head to Pakistan in 14 years.
Russia disregarding Indian pressure to call off the first-ever joint drill between Russia and Pakistan was also an important milestone in Pak-Russia relations.
Russia also took part in the four-day multi-national “Exercise Aman 2017”, which was for many foreign policy analysts, Russia’s way of signaling India to be careful in its intimacy with the US. Moscow has been nurturing its relation with Delhi for decades and will not let go of such an important partnership, but the move toward Islamabad has been significant in perhaps demonstrating that Russia has other options in the region too.
Recently, the Russian Deputy Chief of General Staff visited Pakistan with a delegation. The South African Army Chief was at Pakistan’s March 23 parade and their Minister of Defense also brought a delegation to Pakistan. Pakistan is looking to diversifying its sources for weapon systems and is opting for the best to qualitatively boost its conventional weapons capability.
Under President Trump, America seems all set to dramatically reduce its non-military role in the world, irrespective of the impact such a drastic policy change could have on its relations with its allies and its standing in the international world order. Pakistan is likely to look to other regional powers for economic and military support as the US grows more inward-looking. The US-Pak relationship nonetheless will continue to remain important to both countries and as has always been the case the two will continue to work on issues of mutual importance despite significant differences in outlooks in the bilateral relationship.