Ridin’ with Biden

New US President will pose same old diplomatic challenges to Pakistan

In a way, with Joe Biden being sworn in as president after a lot of travails, America has passed the stress test posed by Donald Trump and his red-neck followers. In the end analysis, democracy has survived. But the country stands divided like rarely before.

Trump’s toxic persona permeated not only virtually every section of American society, it impacted the whole world negatively .His “my way or the highway”, approach towards intricate state matters simply did not work.

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Despite Trump’s exit, the new Democratic administration will have to work overtime to fix things. Nevertheless such negative cross currents have been unleashed by the former president and his alt-right cohorts that it will be virtually impossible to put the genie back in the bottle

There is a proposal to fast track Trump’s pending impeachment trial within three days.

However it does not seem likely as he has substantial support amongst Republicans who are in no hurry to impeach him

Thanks to misdemeanours of the previous administration, the GOP lost its thin majority in the Upper House. However, the newly elected vice president Kamala Harris, casting her vote in case of a tie, things could take turn for the worse for the former president.

Trump’s biggest miscalculation was not to concede to Biden and his refusal to attend the inauguration ceremony, decamping to Florida on the very day.

An even bigger blunder was the brazen armed attack on Capitol Hill where highly charged armed goons forcibly entered the Senate and created mayhem with five persons dying as a result.

Islamabad’s relations with Washington had gone from strategic to transactional a long time ago. It was a simple choice for Pakistan: to stand with a friend that has helped economically and militarily during difficult times, but that relationship soon changed a while ago when Washington abandoned, cutting off all economic and military aid.

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Such incidents, leave alone America, are not so common in first world countries. Trump not only encouraged the attack he was also gloating over his pyrrhic victory.

The sad incident amply demonstrated the deep polarisation amongst the US polity. The former president with his racist rants and anti-immigration rhetoric will keep on feeding the hate agenda of his supporters.

That is why some analysts contend that America is a failing state. The advent of Trump on the political scene is merely a manifestation of stark realities of the day.

Whether Joe Biden has the magic wand and the healing touch to fix things within four years, we will soon know where things are headed.

The rest of the world is looking at how the change of leadership in the sole superpower will impact them.

Relations with China transformed into open hostility in the Trump era. In order to block China, the previous administration started a trade war with Beijing . But to no avail. China’s economy unlike the rest of the world still grew by 2 3 percent.

In order to thwart China, US-India strategic relations were given a further boost when. Modi was given a red carpet reception when he visited Washington in 2019 and the “howdy Modi” rally organised by BJP (Bhartiya Janata Party) was its hallmark, with Trump in attendance.

Islamabad’s relations with Washington had gone from strategic to transactional a long time ago. It was a simple choice for Pakistan: to stand with a friend that has helped economically and militarily during difficult times, but that relationship soon changed a while ago when Washington abandoned, cutting off all economic and military aid.

The US also has a litany of complaints from Pakistan, the chief amongst them what its terms as double-dealing on negotiating with the Taliban. According to this logic, Islamabad on the one hand is facilitating talks between the Afghan Taliban and Washington, but on the other not doing enough to thwart violence in Afghanistan.

These sentiments were echoed by Biden’s nominee for secretary of State Antony Blinkin during his confirmation that though some progress has been made on the issue of terror financing and supporting India specific terror groups, it isn’t sufficient. Similar sentiments were echoed by the new secretary for defence Lloyd Austin, the first African-American to make it to this post.

Although Prime Minister Imran Khan had reasonably cordial relations with Trump, this ostensibly personal rapport did not translate into any tangible gains for Pakistan. In fact, it was under Trump that military assistance for Pakistan was suspended .The issue is yet to be resolved.

President Biden is known to be well aware of dynamics of Pakistan’s military and civilian leadership. He, unlike his predecessor, knows the lay of the land.

With China, Islamabad’s relations is a given; CPEC (China Pak economic corridor) is simply non-negotiable. Partly owing to New Delhi’s prodding, various US emissaries have been trying to work on Islamabad to downgrade its alliance with Beijing if not actually leave it altogether.

Foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is not new to the game, holding the same portfolio under Yousaf Raza Gilani led PPP government.

He had to quit after he was not given foreign affairs portfolio in a cabinet reshuffle. It was generally surmised that Qureshi was towing the military line during the Raymond Davis affair.

This time around, Qureshi’s real ambition was to become the next chief minister of the Punjab. But unfortunately, he lost his provincial seat. Or rather made to lose by his rivals.

With his eyes on domestic politics he gives a lot of time to local issues and in an interview he has urged President Biden to follow up on the withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan.

No one in Pakistan disagrees with SMQ (Shah Mehmood Qureshi) but he should be seen to be more proactive, visiting important foreign capitals. Relations with Washington have gone by default for some time. Merely issuing statements will not do.

SAPM on National Security Moeed Yusuf has said that Pakistan wants unconditional bilateral ties with the US. He correctly branded India as a different country than what it used to be, intolerant with serious internal tensions and human rights concerns.

US dependence on India is an undeniable reality and as long as the latter remains an economic powerhouse, Pakistan will always receive the short end of the stick. As far as our bilateral relations with the US are concerned, it will remain reciprocal, depending heavily on what we do for them, which is usually considered insufficient by our so-called ally.

Arif Nizami
Arif Nizami
The writer is Editor, Pakistan Today. He can be contacted at [email protected]


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