By Amb Anil Trigunayat,
Amidst a huge trust deficit back home and political reckoning still on the anvil, President Biden became the 46th Head of State of the United or Divided States of America. He had the distinction of being the youngest Senator in 1972 (after the Indo-Pak war of 1971) and now sworn in as the oldest and a wise President “ The Healer in Chief’ with first-ever Afro-Asian-American female Vice President in Kamala Devi Harris as his deputy. She is really the first generation Indian-Jamaican origin woman to break the glass ceiling. History has been made which was scripted by the outgoing President Trump, who apparently left a letter for his successor that is said to be gracious, but whose contents yet to be revealed. Strange as it may sound from a man who defied all norms of a smooth transition of power undermining the faith in the oldest and greatest democracy while not even publicly felicitating the new President. Well, he stuck to his signature style and achieved the unique distinction of being the only twice impeached President of these United States of America. He left by claiming that “He had done what he came to do”. Indeed, Trumpism is going nowhere.
It is also true that the whole world looks to the winds blowing around the hyperpower. Many like China and Iran and even Pakistan were “Bidening their time’’. while Trump unleashed his acidic affection on them. Nearer home- Islamabad, despite their track record of supporting terrorism cross border or otherwise, has been able to encash their nuisance value in the context of Afghanistan and Taliban connect across the aisle and big power divide. It also remained a non-Nato ally even though Trump often threatened and cut off carious tranches of financial and security assistance in 2018 citing lack of cooperation against terrorism and sided with India more often than not in its war or terror. India figured prominently in US’s South Asia and Indo-Pacific pivot.
Prime Minister Imran Khan congratulated President Biden tweeting “Look forward to working with @POTUS in building a stronger Pak-US partnership through trade & economic engagement, countering climate change, improving public health, combating corruption & promoting peace in the region & beyond,”. He also looked forward to participating in Biden’s proposed Global Democracy Meet , which in itself might not get that traction given the domestic issues and loss of face due to the unfortunate January 6 events. Pakistan believes that Biden Presidency may not be adversarial as he had contributed a great deal towards enhancing Washington-Islamabad ties including the Kerry-Lugar Bill promoting high-level security ties, exchanges and counter-terrorism both as head of Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as Vice President during Obama era. Pakistan remains a non-NATO ally even though in the last Congress a bill was introduced to terminate that status due to Islamabad not taking sufficient action against terror groups on its territory as well as against the Haqqani Group.
Getting back to that trajectory may be difficult as Sino-US relationship will continue to cast its shadow as Islamabad and Beijing are “iron-clad friends” and increasingly Washington views China as a threat and the competitor and brackets it with Moscow. But Islamabad may be deriving some comfort from the comments by Biden’s Defence Secretary General Lloyd Justin who said during the confirmation hearings ‘ If confirmed I will focus on our shared interests which include training future Pakistani military leaders through the use of Internal Military education and Training Funds. Pakistan will play an important role in any political settlement in Afghanistan. We also need to work with Pakistan to defeat Al Qaeda (naïve as it is? where and under whose patronage was friend Osama Bin laden hiding) and the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) and enhance regional stability ) indeed ?). He seems to have been taken by the recent arrests of some terrorist leaders spawned and supported by deep state in Pakistan when he acknowledged that “Pakistan has also taken steps against anti-Indian groups such as LeT and JeM.” Thank God they don’t live in glass houses.
Interestingly when asked what steps and tools it will take against Pakistan becoming a sanctuary for militants and violent organisations (choice of words for terrorist groups is illuminating) Austin said that Pakistan is a sovereign state and he looked forward to building a relationship with the Pakistani military that will provide an opening to the US and Pakistan to cooperate on key issues. The message is clear that it discounts the Pakistani political establishment and recognises yet again the primacy of Pakistani military and its deep state that has been the key challenge for regional security and stability.
While much water has flown down the Indus and Potomac keeping the boat afloat maybe challenging as global dynamic and currents have changed course. But the then-Senator Joseph R Biden was given the second-highest civilian award ‘Hilal-i-Pakistan’ by the Pakistan government in ‘recognition of the consistent support for Pakistan.” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham was another awardee with him who also persuaded Trump to look at PM Imran Khan kindly. No wonder during his visit to Pakistan in 2011, Biden had claimed that the bilateral relationship was vital “Our relationship, in my view and the view of President Obama, is absolutely vital to the interest of the United States, and I believe you believe it is vital to the Pakistani interest as well.” The two had earlier helped Islamabad receive $1.5 bn in annual support for economic development of Pakistan. Since the US is a polity of lobby and super active PR firms and pressure groups, “Vocal for local “on Kashmir issue by the new Administration might be a minor irritant but the US can ill afford to dispense with its resolute commitment to counter -terrorism.
Should India bother -not really, but it will be interesting to see the trajectory of interactions and outcomes between the new Washington dispensation and embattled Imran Khan regime.
(The author is a former ambassador and presently, Distinguished Fellow Vivekananda International Foundation. Twitter: @aniltrigunayat Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)
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