As January 20th approaches, the world awaits the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States. With a plethora of challenges facing the US, Joe Biden has his plate full. How does he meander through a matrix of strategic challenges at home and abroad is a million dollar question.
Domestically, he faces five major challenges left over by the Trump presidency; the COVID pandemic ravaging through towns and cities across the US, the possible Republican majority in the Senate, the immigration question, recession in an economy reeling under COVID’s pressure and above all, bringing America together.
On the external front, Biden has to make a deliberate attempt to deal with a host of issues—important ones include re-engagement with allies and strategic partners to regain leadership space in the international arena left out by Trump, the Afghanistan peace process, the Iraq conundrum, North Korea, the Indo-Pacific alliance, the China factor, anxiety on Russia, WHO, Abraham Accord impetus, balancing South Asia between India and Pakistan, climate change and the environmental question, international trade and adopting a more subtle approach to conduct strategic damage control which was made necessary by Trump’s informal style.
For Pakistan, three areas remain crucial, the Afghanistan peace process and converging of interests between Pakistan and the US, the need for balance between US-Pakistan and US-India relations and Pakistan’s position on the Abraham Accord in the overall context of the Middle East and the Islamic world.
Joe Biden is an old hand, who as Vice President has been directly involved with Pakistan and Af-Pak during the Obama Administration; his vision about a balanced approach on South Asia and Middle East may augur well for Pakistan due to Pakistan’s pivotal position in the Afghan peace process and a unique position vis a vis Middle East.
Joe Biden’s warnings during the strategic review process that America needed to keep a modest military footprint, focus on al Qaeda, and set up the capacity to “shape the choices made by the Taliban” rather than the Petraeus formulation of “defeating al Qaeda and its affiliates” (i.e. the Taliban)” had ultimately emerged as President Obama’s choice—but only after the military failed to translate hundreds of billions of dollars of resources and a large military deployment into success.
The current momentum of the Afghan peace process is already witnessing some spoilers in the Afghan government and the Indian strategic community, who feel that the trajectory of US policy in Afghanistan will leave very little room for the Doval boys to keep the Af-Pak region boiling.
Another area where Pakistan can push is human rights and the treatment of minorities under the Modi regime in India and Indian Illegally Occupied Kashmir (IIOK); Kamala Harris is on record to have highlighted Indian oppression of Kashmiris and the treatment meted out to Indian minorities within the Union. Major think tanks providing input for the Biden team have recommended that while India is to remain a staunch ally of the US, especially in the Indo Pacific, its human rights record and treatment of minorities under the Modi regime is creating a lot of anxiety in decision-making circles in the US, and, that India has to mends its policy on minorities, especially Muslims.
Democrats like Ilahn Umar had appropriately reacted to the lockdown of Kashmiris in IIOK after August 5 2019.In her tweet and statement on October 24, 2019 she had castigated India by stating, “When a government prevents communities from communicating with the outside world, it is an attack on human rights. The communication blackout in Kashmir is unjust and goes against democratic values.”
Pakistan needs to encourage and activate its diaspora in the US as well as lobbyists to keep reminding the Biden team and staunch supporters of human rights of democrat party in Capitol Hill about their stance on atrocities and human rights violation in IIOK.
Pakistan’s next important area of converging interest with Biden’s team will be the new Middle East being shaped by the Abraham Accord; Pakistan enjoys a special place in the Middle East across the great divide of the Persian Gulf and has maintained a balanced policy in the region. Pakistan’s geostrategic position in the region, combined with it being the only nuclear Muslim country has placed it as the new pivot in the Abraham Accord. While the US has looked for strategic threat reduction of its allies in the Middle East, Pakistan will figure prominently in the changing dynamics of the region.
The toughest call for Pakistan will be to look for a balance in US-India and US-Pakistan relations; while Pakistan can leverage its position in Afghanistan and the Abraham Accord, the US-India strategic partnership and collaboration in the Indo Pacific region is something that will remain a big challenge for Pakistan. Pak-China friendship and strategic cooperation vis a vis Indo Pacific alliance will limit Pakistan’s space, especially if other countries in the West and South East Asia start bandwagoning with the Quad.
However, Joe Biden’s choice of following Trump’s hard policy on China or softening of the policy will dictate the contours of the environment in the region.
In a nutshell, Pakistan has substantial leverage to cooperate with Biden’s team, especially in areas of convergence, as highlighted earlier. Pakistan needs to analyse the possible scenarios emerging out of a change in the White House, galvanise its intellectual community and Pakistani diaspora in the US to maintain a balanced policy.
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The authors are freelance journalists. They can be reached at email@example.com.