Joe Biden speaks at his election party. REUTERS
As Joe Biden was elected as the 46th president of the United States, the world capitals including Islamabad have begun assessing to figure out what to expect from Washington under the new president on the foreign policy front.
Authorities in Pakistan are already doing their homework to deal with the possible changes with the arrival of 78-year-old Biden, who is a foreign policy veteran. Although Pakistan’s relationship remained stable after initial hiccups during President Donald Trump’s four-year term, officials told The Express Tribune that Biden’s election would bring more predictability.
Afghanistan has remained at the centre of Pakistan-US ties. It was Pakistan’s role in brokering the US-Taliban deal that helped the Trump administration to lower the rhetoric against Islamabad. The unconventional style of Trump’s presidency helped Pakistan establish a direct link with the White House.
People like Senator Lindsay Graham, considered a close aide of Trump, played a major role in arranging Prime Minister Imran Khan’s White House visit and his subsequent meetings with Trump.
That luxury will not be available as President-elect Biden would return to the traditional style of governance, relying more on the State Department and Pentagon. But Pakistani decision makers see certain positives that Biden would bring as the US president.
“Under Biden, the US will not hasten the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan,” said a Pakistani official while requesting anonymity. This, the official added, is what Pakistan has been advocating for long.
Any hasty withdrawal will only compound the problems and potentially throw Afghanistan into anothercycle of civil war, the official pointed out. The US and Afghan Taliban signed a landmark deal on February 29 in Doha after several months of painstaking negotiations.
The deal envisages a road- map for the US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan in return for the Taliban agreeing not to allow its soil to be used again by terrorist groups.
Biden also favours the US troops pullout but in a gradual and orderly man- ner. He supports the idea of maintaining certain number of troops for counter terrorism. Pakistan as well as other regional players and immediate neighbours of Afghanistan are supportive of this approach. Biden has not yet announced his team but some observers feel that he may retain Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as special representative for Afghanistan.
“Overall Biden is a better bet than maverick and unpredictable Trump,” commented another official while reacting to Biden’s victory.
There is a sense in Islamabad that Biden, unlike Trump, would be vocal on the human rights situation in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region.
“Traditionally, Democrats have always laid more emphasis on human rights, so we expect that the new president will not ignore the situation in Kashmir,” the official hoped. Observers, however, feel Biden’s criticism against India will not cross certain lines as the US needs India to contain China.
“He (Biden) has a tilt towards India. There will not be change in terms of US policy towards India,” remarked Abdul Basit, former ambassador to India. He recalled that Biden as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair-man was instrumental in the Indo-US nuclear deal.
But officials reminded that Biden also sought a long term relationship with Pakistan.
They referred to the Kerry-Lugar Bill which was coauthored by Biden. TheKerry-Lugar initiative tripled non-military aid to Pakistan. Nevertheless, there is a consensus among analysts and retired diplomats that the nature of the relationship between Pakistan and the US would depend on how Islamabad presents itself to the world.
Pakistan needs to create avenues other than Afghanistan that encourage the US to view ties beyond the security prism, they stressed.