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Joe Biden And Pakistan; What To Expect?

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The US elections are over, and Joe Biden is a clear winner. But the next few weeks are going to be dramatic as Trump ratches up his campaign to delegitimize the elections. Most observers say that despite Trump’s antics, Biden would be sworn in January as the 46th president of the United States.

Pakistan like the rest of the world was keenly following US Elections. Many Pakistanis supported Biden due to his statements related to lifting the ban on Muslims and his famous shut up call to Hamid Karzai in which he said “Pakistan is fifty times more important to the US than Afghanistan”

According to Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center, a Washington think tank, “We should expect to see continuity between Trump and Biden on Pakistan. The focus of the new administration, like the Trump administration, will be Pakistan’s assistance in Afghan peace talks, and Pakistan’s ongoing efforts to eliminate terror networks on its soil.”

The most immediate task for the US government is to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Biden administration will likely stay the course set by Trump to end America’s 19-year war in Afghanistan, although he is likely to take a harder line against the Taliban. Biden administration might also keep a presence of 1,500 to 2,000 troops to combat terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State. This is contrary to Trump administration’s approach to withdrawing all troops as soon as possible.

The new Biden policy towards Afghanistan would a big relief for Islamabad because the total withdrawal of US troops, would result in a civil war where the violence would be even worse than the current levels. It will directly affect Pakistan due to the long border with Afghanistan. The drawdown will lead to loss of leverage for Islamabad to get aid, some relief in FATF, or military equipment.

In 2008, Biden, along with Senator Richard Lugar, enacted the Enhanced Partnership Act with Pakistan during his tenure as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC). The plan to carry $1.5 billion in non-military assistance to Pakistan was supported by Joe Biden and Senator Richard Lugar. A ‘Hilal-e-Pakistan’ was also awarded to Lugar. Pakistan policymakers will keep in mind that if they closely work with the US on Afghan Peace process, they could get a similar financial deal from Biden Administration.

While Biden was the initiator of the Kerry-Lugar bill, it was during his tenure as vice president when in May 2011, US Special Forces raided Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad. In November, NATO warplanes accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Also, in his tenure, US forces carried out drone attacks inside Pakistan (in 2010 alone, CIA carried 128 done attacks) which caused many civilian deaths. During 2011 and much of 2012, US-Pakistan relations were in a deep freeze, at an all-time low.

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg wrote that US President Barack Obama privately questioned “why Pakistan, which he believes is a disastrously dysfunctional country, should be considered an ally of the U.S. at all.”

Biden’s position in recent times on Kashmir issue has given hope to policymakers in Islamabad. They hope that Biden administration would be more vocal in its criticism on India’s oppressive policies in Indian-occupied Kashmir. So they can move forward their Kashmir policy more efficiently highlight India’s human rights abuses and international law violations in the disputed territory. Biden as President of United States raising voice for Kashmir is unlikely as India is a strategic partner in South Asia and with a rising China they can’t afford to damage American relationship with India.

Some experts in Pakistan note Biden’s close ties with former president Asif Ali Zardari and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. His democratic stature will make him engage with elected politicians; and the US will openly favor free and fair elections in the future. Biden as a seasoned politician knows the political landscape of Pakistan quite well and knows the power structure in Pakistan. Therefore, Biden is unlikely to interfere. US need Pakistan’s establishment support in Afghanistan and they won’t sour their relationship with the Pakistani establishment.

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Naya Daur