Pakistan’s expectations from Biden admin

By K N Pandita

Prime Minister Modi’s farewell message to Donald Trump on the conclusion of the latter’s last visit to India was “ab ki bar Trump sarkar”. The wish did not come true. It is a stark reminder that the results of democratic elections are unpredictable.

Pakistan’s proxies enjoy a long reach in Democratic Party. It worked with fervour to see that Trump was dislodged from power. They hated him for some of his policy decisions which they interpreted as anti-Moslem forgetting that national interests serve as the umbilical cord for any nation.

Political commentators in India and Pakistan are hotly debating what changes Biden administration will bring about in US’ South Asian policy under Trump. Some changes will certainly take place but a great power as the US is, looks at geographical regions from its angle notwithstanding the usual soft rhetoric.

So far no formal statement has come from White House which could be taken as policy indicator. The designate- CIA chief , and also the Secretary of State-designate both have hinted at reviving military to military interaction between the US and Pakistan. On the face of it, and perhaps from Pakistan point of view, among other things, it would be the revival of annual military grants of about 3 million dollars to Pakistan that had been frozen by Trump.

For many decades Pakistan has remained the beneficiary of Pentagon which always considered her an aligned country and not friendly to the erstwhile Soviet Union. That situation has changed actually during Bush administration. The Soviet Union imploded in 1991 and the Central Asian and the East European States declared their independence. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan entirely changed the military scenario of the region. The Soviets withdrew but what emerged out of the debris was much more dangerous and ruthless. We mean the Taliban. Finally, the 9/11 opened a new chapter of modern history – the chapter of Theo-fascism.

While considering the revival of the military to military interaction, Biden administration will have to take into account new facets of alignments in the Middle and Central Asian region. For example, coming closer of Pakistan to Moscow, the emergence of the Quad with known impact in Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the streamlining of Indo-Pacific strategy of the US, escalating Sino-Indian hostilities along the Himalayan border and Iran allowing China a foothold in Chahbahar besides the latter poised to make a significant presence in the Gulf region by taking over Gwadar seaport.

Biden administration is focused on Afghanistan where it would very much like early withdrawal of American troops promised by Biden during his election campaign. The point is whether the US will pull out all of its troops and leave the Taliban as the deciding force for the Ghani Ashraf government or will it leave behind some military support structure so that the nationalist forces are not over-run. It is perhaps an Afghan issue that weighs heavy on the mind of Biden and for that reason the importance of Pakistan becomes vital. However, Trump administration had never minced words about the double role of Pakistan army and had even issued a warning to that effect several times. Biden administration will have to convince itself whether Pakistan is sincerely desirous of finding an end to the Afghan tangle. The so-called successful Qatar talks between the Taliban and the US carry little significance as long as a durable intra-Afghan peace talk is not stabilized. Has Pakistan stopped providing a haven to the Taliban escapists in Quetta and other adjoining places on its soil? And above all, does Biden administration think that Pakistan has done all needed to be done to dismantle the terror structure at home?

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee Lt. Gen (retd) Austin dropped some hints that could be taken as fundamentals of Biden administration’s policy for the India sub-continent. He said, “We intended to press Pakistan to prevent its territory from being used as a sanctuary for militants and violent extremist organizations. Continuing to build relationships with Pakistan’s military will provide openings for the United States and Pakistan to cooperate on key issues”.

It is obvious that while chiselling its Pakistan policy, Biden administration will have to take into account the entire gamut of defence and strategic relations the US and India have established in the context of increasing threats from China’s aggressive foreign policy. And China has dangerously close ties with Pakistan. Austin understands the situation and that is what he means to convey by saying, “I would further operationalize India’s ‘Major Defense Partner’ status and continue to build upon existing strong defence cooperation to ensure the US and Indian militaries can collaborate to address shared interests. I would also seek to deepen and broaden our defence cooperation through the Quad security dialogue and other regional multilateral engagements.”

In the final analysis, having good relations with Biden team gives Pakistan an opportunity of putting its case before the US State Department forcefully but any major deviation from the fundamental approach of the US to key questions of global strategy needs to be ruled out. Pakistan cannot hide its logjam with religious, ethnic and linguistic minorities by drumming up a fake litany of violation of human rights of Kashmiris by the NDA government in New Delhi.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies of Kashmir University).

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