THE whole world has set its awaiting eyes upon the White House as the 46th President of the United States of America is going to take charge tomorrow (20 January). Experts are debating about the contours of the President-elect Joe Biden administration’s approach towards different geopolitical hotspots of the American foreign policy. Among these, Biden’s anticipated foreign policy approach towards South Asia is of growing importance to regional peace and stability as the two nuclear states – Pakistan and India – have turned cold over the past few years.
Under President Trump, however, the relations between India and the US are cozier than ever. Irrespective of Biden’s expectedly reconciliatory approach towards China, the mutual concerns about China will continue to keep both the countries in strategic partnership. Besides a huge level of trade partnership between the two countries, the US desire for greater Indian role in the Pacific will continue to build stronger defence ties with New Delhi. Therefore, China’s rise as a mutual threat and a shared responsibility to protect the rule based order in the Indo-Pacific leaves room for both the countries advance their strategic partnership.
Immediate and complete overturn of foreign policy cannot be prophesied by the Biden administration, however, the President elect Joe Biden Presidency will have the institutional stability and case for human rights as among its ‘earliest priorities’. Trump’s official visit to India in February 2020 was the height of his muted response to the human right violations, especially on the Delhi Pogrom. However, Biden is more critical to human rights violations. The Vice President-elect Kamal Haris, in presidential voiced concerns over Indian human rights violations in Kashmir; she not only reminded Kashmiris that “they are not alone”, but also called for a need “to intervene if the situation demands”.
On the other hand, the relations between Washington and Islamabad have seen many ebb and flows, more frequently under Trump administration. The cord that connects these two countries is Afghanistan. Following tensions after Trump’s severe criticism of Islamabad’s inability to crackdown on terrorists, in the last two years of Trump administration, Islamabad and Washington have come to a cordial phase based on US needs and Pakistan’s interest. The U.S desire to bring an end to the ‘Long War’ in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s leverage in facilitating the US-Taliban Peace Talks has kept the two countries in close relationship.
President Biden remained relatively favourable to Pakistan under Obama administration for his role in approving Kerry Lugar Bill and appreciating Pakistan’s commitment to fight the US-led global war on terror as the frontline ally. Moreover, Biden’s interest in keeping a considerable presence in Afghanistan and strategic relevance of the region is likely to grow Pak-U.S. relations even stronger in the coming years. Also, Biden administration’s relatively vocal approach towards Kashmir and human rights gives Pakistan an anchorage to dynamically highlight the issue of disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir in the international community.
In the nutshell, the kind of pro-India tilt visible in Trump’s foreign policy is less likely to continue as Biden administration will play by the rules of strategic engagement which means a balance approach is expected; it also means engaging India as a close strategic partner vis-à-vis China but also keeping Pakistan at arm’s length to bring stability in Afghanistan. The efforts of conflict resolution between Pakistan and India including Kashmir can be prognosticated by Washington and is inevitable for maintaining a comprehensive strategic environment favourable to Washington’s interests in the region.
—The writer is a research scholar at National Defence University, Islamabad.