UncategorizedVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 07

US-Pakistan relations under Joe Biden

Democratic candidate Joe Biden has won in the landmark United States election. The US presidential election 2020 will be remembered in US history as incumbent President Donald Trump accused the American establishment, including its security apparatus, of stealing the election from him in favour of Biden.

The accusations of Trump could not be rubbished prima facie as he has solid arguments in this regard. Trump has already announced challenging the results of the presidential elections in the US Supreme Court. At the moment, Joe Biden is all set to become the US President. For Pakistan, like the rest of the world, the new president of the most powerful country of the world is very important to look for ways and means to engage with it and get benefit out of it.

During the presidency of Donald Trump, Pakistan-US relations remained bumpy. At one point in time, President Donald Trump in January 2018, tweeted, “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe havens to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” It was only after Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan visited the US and met Trump like a statesman that the latter changed his viewpoint about Pakistan and gave some positive vibes about Islamabad. More importantly, since then Trump has desisted from criticizing Pakistan. Moreover, Trump and his officials even praised Pakistan on a number of occasions for its instrumental role in bringing the long intransigent Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table, first with Washington and afterwards with the Afghan government. Pakistan played a critical role in making the Taliban sign a historic peace deal with the Americans in February 2020. Under the deal, Washington would withdraw all of its forces from Afghanistan over the next 18 months. This has been a longstanding demand of the Afghan Taliban, who could not be defeated in the last 19 years of US occupation of Afghanistan and by spending more than one trillion dollars in the war-ravaged country. It is important to note that President Trump inked an agreement with the Taliban in the face of stiff resistance from his country’s security establishment. Now the biggest question from Pakistan’s point of view regarding relations with Washington under President Biden would be whether the new president would stick to the promises made in the agreement with the Taliban. Hopefully, Biden would keep intact the truce made with the Afghan Taliban to withdraw forces from Afghanistan within the stipulated time. Once it happens, the relations between Pakistan and the US would attain a new form.

Historically speaking, Pakistan is an old partner of the US, however, the partnership has been evolving over decades and the demands and expectations of both states from each other have been changing despite their certain relatively stable interests in each other. In recent years, US-Pakistan relations have become so intricate that both countries had serious doubts about the other’s intentions while they also could not afford to sever ties.

Initially, when the US established close ties with Pakistan in the decades of 1950, it fundamentally wanted Pakistan to serve as an important link in encircling the former Soviet Union by containing it and preventing the communist ideology from spreading in South Asia. Therefore, the US during the Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union wanted Pakistan to be its strong ally and for the purpose it contributed significantly to its stability. However, certain Pakistanis have an opposite view that the Americans did not care for Pakistan stability even during the Cold War. But one does not agree with this line of argument.

On its part, Pakistan during the Cold War wanted Washington to be the source of its financial and military sustenance so that its regional rivals, India, Soviet Union and its puppet Afghanistan, may not harm Pakistan’s integrity and sovereignty. Unfortunately, Pakistan could not keep intact its territorial integrity as East Pakistan had to become Bangladesh in which both India and the Soviet Union played an instrumental role. Thus, in a way Pakistan lost its eastern wing due to its alliance with Washington which annoyed the Soviet Union.

In the post-Cold War US, with its near-dominance of the global scene with the main challenge coming from non-state militant and terrorist organisations, specifically Muslim armed militias, wanted Pakistan to serve as an ally against the militant organisations. However, due to ideological or religious reasons as well as acute security compulsions Pakistan could not support Washington in a way as has been expected by the latter. This is despite the fact that Pakistan has been on the forefront to help the US trounce Al-Qaeda, considered as the gravest threat to American security by its policymakers. Therefore, there has been increasing demands from the US for Pakistan “to do more” against militant and terrorist organizations. Like in the Cold War, when Pakistan put its territorial integrity on the precipice partly for Washington, in the post-September 9, 2001, period and with the launch of the Global War on Terror by the US, Islamabad once against put its survival at risk, this time at the hands of non-state global, regional and local Muslim militant organizations, like Al-Qaeda and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). There has always been an important question raised by observers and policy circles in Pakistan and elsewhere that whether the US had a deliberate policy to put Pakistan’s stability and integrity at risk for its core national interests. Washington, as it always claimed, wants to see a stable and prosperous Pakistan, but under compulsion of its interests could only see its interest served, whether it results in instability and chaos in Pakistan. While any realist state would have adopted the policy but it could lead to mistrust between allies and partners and the same has happened to US-Pakistan relations.

Since the turn of the century, the US has key objectives in Pakistan. These are: to get all-out Pakistan support in the Global War on Terror, including military, counterinsurgency operations in the tribal areas, logistical and intelligence support, primarily in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world, like Iraq and Yemen; preventing Pakistan from (what Washington fears) proliferating nuclear material and technology, particularly to Iran; getting Pakistan support for reconstruction in Afghanistan, stabilization of the country; courting Pakistan to support the US anti-Iran stance; pressuring Pakistan to give Gwadar Port’s control to US companies instead of China; to reduce Pakistan-India tensions but not by playing a role in resolving the key issue of Kashmir. Here, it is important to note that US policy objectives in Pakistan have been in conflict with that of Pakistan’s interests, particularly regarding China and India. In case of China-Pakistan relations, they have largely been strategic and economic. So like any other state, particularly a global power, the US wants Pakistan to compromise its own interests for the sake of its policy objectives. This is typical of a patron-client relationship which the US has adopted with Pakistan. However, times have changed and, therefore, the nature of relations must also transform. This must be realized both by Pakistan and the US. It is hoped that under Biden, Pakistan-US relations would become multidimensional instead of being narrow.