Biden Administration: Challenges and Opportunities for Pakistan

Amid unprecedented catastrophes of pandemic Covid-19 across the world, the US underwent another phase of democratic transition in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential elections. Democrat candidate Joe Biden manages to defeat the Republican contending Donald Trump who was contesting for its second term in the presidential race. With this electoral triumph, Joe Biden has been elected as the 46th American President of the US, perhaps his role for the next four years would be critical for determining the fate of millions of Americans at home and abroad in the domain of foreign policy persuasion. Unlike, other former American Presidents, Biden holds limited choices due to Trump’s pitfalls, but definite issues to handle pertinent to American foreign policy and domestic socio-political affairs. It is noticeable that during the electoral campaign, there is a clear intent of revitalizing the moral paradigm in American political culture. Nonetheless, its designed endeavours for diplomatic engagement in foreseeable future, political pundits predict the rapprochement strategy coupled with the reversing decision of the Trump administration may seek preferential treatment as it hampered American democratic prestige quite drastically.

The presidential elections also hold immense significance for Islamabad because under the new administration it will define the trajectory of bilateral ties between the two countries. Over Biden’s victory, Pakistan opted for a balanced approach so far, sticking to the existing formwork of cooperation it gave a gesture of further alleviating the relations with Washington. In this context, cognizant of its wattage, Pakistan also congratulated Biden over its electoral victory and vowed to continue its efforts for regional peace, in particular assisting the US peaceful political resolution of the Afghan crisis. “History indicates that Pak-US relations have been erratic and subtle as they underwent successive transformations over the period due to numerous intervening impediments. From strategic allies to frenemies, both states pursued bilateral engagement that defined the outlook of regional geopolitical architecture and also played a key role in realignment of Post-Cold world order. Ever since “Operation Enduring Freedom” both countries are bilaterally engaged with a security-oriented collaboration. Biden’s victory in the presidential elections simultaneously offers opportunities and also posing challenges to Islamabad. Albeit, under the newly elected Biden administration, Pakistan pins hope of pursuing constructive multilateral ties with the US with a broader scope of collaboration in the domain of security, economy, and geostrategic affairs. Likewise, Biden will also look to place Islamabad in a key position in the forthcoming US National Security Strategy manual towards South Asia.

Dismayingly during political transitions of President Bush, Obama, and the Trump administrations, relations predominately enticed with US trust deficit pitfall towards Islamabad, reciprocally it took a cautious approach to avert the perceptions of overriding US influence in the foreign policy imperatives. However, the situation this time around is different, Pakistan is in driving seat due to its significant role in the ongoing Afghanistan peace process. As, the US policy towards Afghanistan unlikely to change, therefore Pakistan would seek preferential treatment from Washington until its complete withdrawal. Islamabad must capitalize on the opportunity to mend unflinching ties to pursue its multilateral interests. Unlike Trump’s maverick and unorthodox political style, Biden seemingly holds a steadfast, naive and pragmatic approach that averts the impediments of “unpredictability” and it allows Pakistan to transcend ties beyond the rhetoric confinement of the previous administration. 

The very first challenge for Islamabad is defining contours of engagement with the Biden administration. The role of lobbies is significantly important in this timeframe to smoothen paths of sustainable engagement with Washington. For Pakistan, another vital consideration is to ensure the Indian detachment, as the transition period also offers a chance for Delhi to subvert its lost status in the Afghanistan peace process. The minimal role of Pakistani lobbies always remained a grave area of concern that potentially necessitates stringent measures to denounce Indian-led propaganda.

The second challenge is convincing the US to opt for a balancing approach vis-à-vis its relations with Indian and Pakistan. Ever since the Bush administration growing Indo-US strategic partnership in the South Asia region not only impacting the balance of power in the region but also further escalating the military-industrial complex and arms race-putting regional peace at stake.

Third, Sino-Pak bonhomie and US-China conventional animosity are two significant variables that foster the dynamics of the bilateral relationship between Islamabad and Washington. Both former and latter are posing reciprocal concerns that lead to the inadvertent trust deficit between two states. The policymakers in Islamabad has an uphill task to overcome this resentment to put the flourishing trajectory of relations beyond those hurdles.

Fourth, the Kashmir conflict remains another significant factor that will determine the dynamics of Pak-US relations. The previous administration played a minimal role in crisis mitigation and its efforts were confined to the rhetoric only. It’s another challenge for Islamabad how it turns the table to convince the White House over its narrative regarding the Kashmir conflict.

Fifth, domestic political riddles and economic soft patches are two major imperatives that impede the instigation of bolstering ties with Washington. Ever since the foundation of bilateral relations, the US gave the perception of an opportunistic state and its policies usually remain on the zero-sum notion and Islamabad paid the price in most of the cases. Thus, this looming perception needs to address first hand to ensure a congenial environment for strengthening the dynamics of relations.

Sixth, amongst the challenges CPEC is the point of divergence in collaborative interests of two states. The Trump administration has shown grave apprehension as it undermines its regional interests and opted anti-CPEC campaign in alignment with the Delhi-based propaganda narrative. Biden administration would continue the same policy assertion, henceforth, it is also another point of concern for Pakistan to converge the narrative.

In retrospect, driven through security-oriented exigencies, the bilateral ties were limited to the US economic assistance, thus it is the right opportunity to foster multidimensional relations in the realm of economy and social partnership. Islamabad needs to ensure that its efforts for the Afghanistan peace process should be dually acknowledged with certain concessions.

A meaningful engagement with Washington may serve the purpose, otherwise, it may become redundant. In an account of this, devising Track II diplomacy would consolidate the prospect of fart-fetched engagement. In the geostrategic aspect, the Biden administration would try to rescind the Trump belligerent moves towards China. Pakistan can play the mediator role between two global contending powers to lower down the embroiling turmoil amid economic war. Likewise, towards Iran, Democrats adopted an engagement approach in past. Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear treaty with Iran gave shockwaves to Washington that seemingly may reinforce by Biden. Consequently, it also raises the impetus of creating plausible situations for negotiations and Pakistan again holds the leverage of mediation between the contending actors.

Giving preferential treatment between India and Pakistan, Biden might be caught up between two stools. Indian has emerged as one of the biggest clients to run its weapon industry in the last two decades. Likewise, the Indian diaspora also plays a substantial role in American economic uplift, thus tilt towards Pakistan may impact its economic incentives.

From the US perspective, the constructive partnership with Pakistan may provide Biden with a strong foothold in the South Asian region to pursue multilateral interests. If Biden purses detachment policy that will decisively place Islamabad in irreversible Beijing’s bloc. With predominant regional isolation and turbulent nature, Indian has nothing much to offer to the US in South Asia, it merely fulfils its weaponry export exigencies while the containment of China is confined to utter failure. The geographic proximities and geostrategic posture offer the US opportunities to incur its soft power calculus. Constructive engagement with Pakistan would amplify its regional strategic relevance in the realm of geopolitics. It is pertinent to mention that the emerging global order has strong roots in this region and misusing Pakistan poses serious challenges to the US. In the context of growing Indo-US ties, Pakistan has to mobilize all the bargaining chips to draw considerable gains of containment and limited cooperation as it overtly shattering the key emblems of strategic regional stability.

Considering both assertions, it is interesting to see how the Biden administration proceed towards two nuclear contending powers of the region. Although the Trump administration posed countless challenges to deal with, however, towards Af-Pak policy there is no more absurdity. Thus, Biden owns a better opportunity to accomplish the US endeavour to Afghanistan conflict and stable its regional posture. Notwithstanding with much optimism, the future course of relations between Washington and Islamabad aspires to a constructive bilateral partnership based on mutual trust. The old way of opportunistic politics, coercion, and mantra of “do more” has become redundant. Islamabad also cherishes independent sovereign policy, therefore this very significant factor Biden’s administration needs to take into account before taking any policy initiative taken from the old policy manuals.

Recently, the US government also urged Pakistan to recognize Israel. However, Pakistan categorically denounced the US suggestion. Biden should remain cautious in promoting such divergent goals because Pakistan holds a staunch position concerning Israel recognition and it would lead to irking ties.

To further converge their stakes, both states can look to converge their interests in the domain of global crisis management. Likewise, collective combating terrorism policies can be further equipped with a constant intelligence sharing mechanism. Pakistan can seek assistance in the domain of innovation research, science, and technology.

Furthermore, the knowledge corridor program can be further expanded by increasing the number of scholarships. Pakistan is currently facing tough visa policies and traveling restrictions are abandoning the prospect of people to people linkages, tourism, and cultural exchange. In this regard, Islamabad can ask the Biden administration for maximum concessions to further diversify the intercultural linkages. Bilateral trade is another area that holds massive exposure to deepen the economic ties of the two countries.

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About Mushahid Hussain Naqvi 22 Articles
The author is the Digital Editor at The Asian Telegraph and sub-Editor at Melange International Magazine and Research Associate at COPAIR with academic expertise in International Relations.