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Pakistan is hoping for Biden to reset relations. Will he stop the US policy drift towards India?

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  • Pakistan is looking for a positive change under Biden and hopes he will, unlike Trump, address its concerns on regional instability and India’s revisionist policies

  • The Pakistan-US relationship, long dominated by strategic concerns, can be more productive if they work on larger goals such as climate change, health care, education and infrastructure development

Pakistan and the United States have a multifaceted relationship in areas including counterterrorism, energy, trade and investment. Pakistan, the US and its allies have been fighting the war against terrorism in Afghanistan. The US is one of the largest sources of foreign direct investment in Pakistan and a top destination for Pakistani goods.

Even so, relations need more constructive dialogue for future collaboration. Pakistan hopes for a positive change from US President  Joe Biden ’s administration and believes that, unlike former president Donald Trump, Biden will address Pakistan’s concerns on regional instability and India’s revisionist policies  in South Asia.
For Pakistan, four areas remain crucial: the need for a balance between US-Pakistan and US-India relations; peace and stability in Afghanistan and a convergence of interests between Pakistan and the US; Pakistan-China relations, and; Pakistan’s position on the Abraham Accords in the overall context of the Middle East.

The US relationship with India has been a defining factor in Pakistan-US relations. Islamabad has been sensitive to growing India-US ties since the 1990s. The US moved closer to India than ever under Trump and Pakistan believes that America’s South Asia policies favour India.

Trump’s approach to the region largely decoupled India and Pakistan, which generated less concern from Pakistan about the US-India relationship. Pakistan expects the Biden administration to be more concerned about upholding human rights and United Nations resolutions in Indian-occupied Kashmir.

Vice-President Kamala Harris is on record as highlighting Indian oppression of Kashmiris and the treatment meted out to Indian minorities. This stance will give Pakistan an opportunity to highlight India’s human rights and international law violations.
During a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House, Trump offered to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir. However, India immediately responded that Kashmir was a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan.

Biden’s presence in the White House can help Pakistan forge new partnerships with the US based on mutual geopolitical and economic interests. Pakistan wants peace in Afghanistan because that is connected to stability in Pakistan.

The US also needs Pakistan to mediate between Americans and Afghans during peace dialogue in Afghanistan. For the past two decades, Afghanistan has kept the US and Pakistan connected in one way or another. Afghanistan was also close to Biden’s heart when he was vice-president.
The current momentum in the Afghan peace process is already revealing some spoilers in the Afghan government and the Indian strategic community. They appear to feel that the trajectory of US policy in Afghanistan will leave little room for the Doval Doctrine to affect Afghanistan-Pakistan relations.

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan permits it to redefine its interests in the region. It also presents Pakistan with opportunities to strengthen its strategic and economic ties with the US through effective implementation of the Afghan peace process.

The Trump administration had a more critical view of China’s infrastructure and development initiatives in Pakistan, such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). For Pakistan, as for so many other countries, Sino-US competition is in itself of little practical concern when compared to other pressing needs, such as economic development, climate change, public health and security.
Though Biden is expected to continue supporting India against China, the US is also expected to take steps to restore its role as a strategic balancer between Pakistan and India. For a better US-Pakistan relationship, Washington has to accept China’s development initiatives in Pakistan without making Sino-Pakistan relations a zero-sum game.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
In fact, it will be important for Pakistan to convince Washington that its engagement with CPEC should not preclude collaboration with the US. With a progressive Pakistan-US relationship, private investments in key economic spheres can also flourish.

Pakistan has had great success in developing mutually beneficial relationships with predominantly Muslim nations, especially the Arab countries of the Middle East. It has maintained a balanced policy in the region.

Pakistan’s next important area of converging interest with Biden’s administration will be the new Middle East, being shaped by the Abraham Accords.

In practical terms, the Biden administration will need to reconsider US policy towards Pakistan. Both countries need to find areas of meaningful cooperation, and ways to move beyond a transactional mode to more strategic relations.
Pakistan has substantial leverage to cooperate with Biden’s team. Relations that have for a long time been dominated by strategic concerns can be more productive if they are redefined carefully. By finding common ground, they can work to achieve larger goals such as on climate change, health care, education and infrastructure development.

Pakistan needs to galvanize its intellectual community and diaspora in the US to maintain a balanced policy. TheUS is Pakistan’s top export destination, but these trade gains have yet to be realized. Pakistan’s strategic location will help prompt security, trade and commerce in the coming years.
Note: This article appeared in SCMP, dated 29 January 2021.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.

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IPRI is one of the oldest non-partisan think-tanks on all facets of National Security including international relations & law, strategic studies, governance & public policy and economic security in Pakistan. Established in 1999, IPRI is affiliated with the National Security Division (NSD), Government of Pakistan.


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