America breathes fresh: Does rest of the world too ?

Iqbal Khan

A new chapter opens in the US politics. President Joe Biden took the helm, overshadowed with denouncing a national “uncivil war,” and appeals for unity to take on crises. To send across the message of urgency to de-Trumpize the US and the world, just after inauguration, Biden signed 17 Executive Orders that took political aim at erasing as much of President Donald Trump’s presidency. Biden declared truth and democracy are under attack in America and pledged to usher the post-truth era out of US politics.

Biden, a foreign policy veteran, is well aware of Pakistan and the regional situation. He frequently visited the region as Head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and then as two-term Vice President. He was instrumental in getting through the Kerry-Lugar bill from US Congress that tripled the non-military aid to Pakistan. A lot has changed since then, China phobia has taken the better of the US national policy. One has to see how Pakistan-US relationship adjusts to this reality. To radiate a message of peace and ease for the world at large, Biden is proposing a five-year extension to New Start Treaty, the only surviving Arms Control/ Disarmament treaty between the US and Russia, that is due to expire in February.

Pakistan is hopeful that Biden Administration would revive the high-level engagement which was suspended by President Donald Trump. Pakistan is looking forward to working with the new US Administration, as US Secretary of Defence termed Islamabad an “essential partner” for the Afghan endgame. “If you look at the full statement of Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, he appreciated Pakistan’s role in the Afghan peace process,” said Foreign Office spokesperson during his weekly briefing. Austin clearly stated that he would encourage a regional approach having support from neighbouring countries like Pakistan. Additionally, he also stated that he will “focus on our shared interests that include training future Pakistan military leaders through the use of the International Military Education and Training (IMET) funds”.

Biden appealed to Americans to move past their deep divisions. He cast unity as the only path out of the challenges facing the nation, which include a spiraling pandemic, economic uncertainty, racial tensions, deep partisanship and a growing divide over truth versus lies. According to Julie Pace, his words felt less like rhetorical flourishes and more like an urgent appeal to stabilize a country reeling from multiple crises. His choice of colourful team will help in distancing the US from white supremacism. And project, at least, a semblance of human equality. Stuffing his team with the persons of Indian origin has raised eye brows in Pakistan.

During confirmation hearing by the Congress, Biden’s nominee for intelligence chief vowed to release murder report of Saudi critic Khashoggi. The report on who was responsible for Saudi-insider-turned critic Jamal Khashoggi’s murder could be embarrassing for the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and is likely to strain Saudi-US ties. Avril Haines, the nation’s first woman to oversee US intelligence agencies, made the promise because the Congress required the national intelligence director to release an unclassified report to legislators on the killing, but the Trump Administration didn’t follow through. Khashoggi, a Saudi-insider-turned critic who was living in the US, was killed and dismembered by Saudi agents in the Kingdom’s Consulate in Istanbul in 2018, causing a global outcry. Biden has said he would treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah.”

Biden will keep the US embassy in Israel in Jerusalem, Secretary of the State affirmed. “Do you agree that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and do you commit that the United States will keep our embassy in Jerusalem?” asked Republican Senator Ted Cruz. “Yes and Yes,” said Antony Blinken in testimony at his Senate confirmation hearing. Trump had announced the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017. And moved its embassy to Jerusalem in May of the following year. Jerusalem remains at the heart of the Middle East conflict, with Palestinians and the Arab world insisting that East Jerusalem – illegally occupied by Israel since 1967 – should serve as the capital of a Palestinian State.
On a two-state solution in Palestine, the incoming diplomat said Biden thinks the best way “to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state and to give the Palestinians a state to which they are entitled is through the so-called two-state solution.” “I think realistically, it’s hard to see near-term prospects for moving forward on that. What would be important is to make sure that neither party takes steps that make the already difficult process even more challenging,” he added. Antony Blinken said that he would undertake a review of a deal with Afghanistan’s Taliban and that the United States needed means to prevent any resurgence of terrorism. Trump’s Administration had signed a deal on February 29 last year with the Taliban to end America’s longest war by pulling out all its troops by May this year, but controversially kept some annexes classified. “We want to end this so-called forever war. We want to bring our forces home. We want to retain some capacity to deal with any resurgence of terrorism, which is what brought us there in the first place,” Antony Blinken, told his Senate confirmation hearing. “We have to look carefully at what has actually been negotiated.

Single most factor towards global stability shall depend upon how the new Administration adjusts to rise of China. Just hours before leaving the office, the Trump Administration indulged in an uncalled-for gimmick to characterise the alleged repression of Muslim Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang province as genocide. “I believe this genocide is ongoing and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uighurs by the Chinese party-state,” said outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He also accused China of crimes against humanity, citing the forced sterilisation and torture of some of the “more than a million” civilians he said were detained under the direction of the Chinese Communist Party. Key to success lies in balancing his roles as the “US leader” with that of “Wold Leader”. While latter role embeds the former, reverse is not true.
—The Islamabad-based writer is a retired army officer and a regular contributor to the national press.

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