Saturday October 16, 2021

New team in White House: Challenges and opportunities for Pakistan

January 18, 2021

The days of the new US president Joe Biden are about to start. An experienced hand on South Asia, he will have a different set of challenges as compared to the time when he was the Obama vice president. For Pakistan, three areas remain crucial i.e. Afghanistan peace process and converging of interests between Pakistan and the United States, the need for balance between the United States-India relations and Pakistan’s position on the Abraham Accord in the overall context of the Middle East and the Islamic world.

The current momentum of the Afghan peace process is already witnessing some spoilers in the Afghan government and the Indian strategic community, who feed that the trajectory of United States policy in Afghanistan will leave very little room for the Doval boys to keep the Afghanistan-Pakistan region boiling. It is not yet clear what the final position of the Biden administration would be on Trump’s agreement to withdraw all the US troops from Afghanistan. The Taliban want to continue with the accord and have already told the new incoming administration that

“The Islamic Emirate would like to stress to the new American president-elect and future administration that implementation of the agreement is the most reasonable and effective tool for ending the conflict between both our countries.” But if the accord is altered, there are chances that violence in Afghanistan will further flare up.

Another area is human rights and the treatment of minorities under the Modi regime in India and Indian Illegally Occupied Kashmir (IIOK). Such measures in Kashmir and discriminatory anti-immigration law, according to Biden, are “inconsistent with the country’s long tradition of secularism and multi-ethnic and multi-religious democracy.” Kamala Harris is also on record to have highlighted the Indian oppression of Kashmiris and the treatment meted out to Indian minorities within the Union.

Pakistan reminded the world late last year about India’s role in the region i.e. a trouble maker. The dossier presented by the foreign minister and DG ISPR was proof about the Indian involvement in creating instability and terrorism in Pakistan. In the last two years, the Indian position has not become stronger in the region but has diminished following unilateral actions in Kashmir and the controversial anti-Muslim law.

It has come out with weakening democratic governance and human rights record. With the current Hindu nationalist government stirring up trouble for Pakistan, the Indian narrative of victimhood i.e. how India has suffered at the hand of terrorists is false and much amplified. On the other hand, Pakistan would like for a balance in the United States-India and United States-Pakistan relations; the United States-India strategic partnership and collaboration in the Indo Pacific region is something that will remain a big challenge for Pakistan.

Pakistan has strategic interests with China and it cannot abandon them at any cost. The US has to realize that Pakistan seeks CPEC to succeed; it cannot compromise on it as it will help Pakistan develop. According to Moeed Yusuf, the National Security Adviser, “We ultimately want to see ourselves as an economic melting pot for the region.”

Pakistan supports China’s stance on Xinjiang, Tibet and Taiwan, while China backs Pakistan on its Kashmir issue with India. This will not change.

As the Biden administration re-engages with the international community, Pakistan expects that it will have a balanced approach towards the region. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, about Pakistan's future relationship with the US under the Biden administration, believes that Biden will have a different approach than Trump, saying the incoming administration would "prefer negotiations over confrontation" with Pakistan. While Biden has a long history of reengaging with Pakistan, new dynamics are in place and the new administration cannot just ignore them. The US under the Biden administration could work to support peace and security in the region.