By Khawaja Dawood Tariq
As Mr. Biden was sworn in, policymakers in Islamabad took a sigh of hope. After the contentious Trump presidency, Islamabad was hoping for a reset of its relation with the US. President Biden was awarded Pakistan’s second-highest civilian award back in 2008 in recognition of his continued support. Though the U.S and Pakistan have long-standing strategic relations, it won’t change the fact that their relations have always been transactional. It has always been about what Pakistan can contribute to help secure U.S interests and how Pakistan can extract concessions from the former to secure such interests. The long-standing U.S-Pakistan relations have deteriorated under Obama and Trump administrations. The Trump administration not only stopped financial aid earmarked to Pakistan but unceremoniously and unprecedentedly also blocked the Pakistani military’s access to U.S military institutes. In order to reset U.S-Pakistan relations, both countries would have to reevaluate regional and strategic dynamics and come up with a new set of policy tools to engage. This could be achieved by restarting the U.S-Pakistan Strategic dialogue.
Afghanistan remains the most pressing area of concern for both the US and Pakistan. Being committed to promoting peace in the region, Pakistan has played an instrumental role in creating a conducive environment for the peaceful settlement of the Afghan issue. However, the recent increase in violence and the Biden administration’s decision to review the withdrawal agreement would likely have an adverse effect on the success of the intra-Afghan dialogue. Both the countries would have to find concrete confidence-building measures on a rather urgent basis to ensure that the Afghan conflict can finally be resolved.
Pakistan’s economy cannot withstand any economic blowback that comes with getting blacklisted by FATF. Pakistan has already complied with the demands placed by FATF. However, the US has used FATF as a tool to exert influence on Pakistan to manipulate its strategic direction. Now that the Afghan peace process is towards its conclusion, given that all sides can keep their end of the bargain. The US would have to create an environment for Pakistan to exit out of the FATF grey list so that it may start to rebuild its economy. Unfortunately, keeping Pakistan occupied in FATF would only delight the Indian policymakers. This would ultimately let the region remain unstable. Given the significance of Pakistan for regional peace and stability, an economically strong Pakistan would be in a much better position to play its positive role in this regard.
Indo-U.S relations have come a long way since the days of the cold war. The two have developed a very robust strategic partnership over the last decade. India is being considered a regional bulwark against the rise of China. India features heavily in U.S designs to contain China. Policymakers in Pakistan believe that the U.S is empowering India at Islamabad’s expense to contain China. Such favoritism is very dangerous for the strategic stability of the region. Both sides need to find a comprehensive balance that could address Pakistan’s concern vis-à-vis the US’ Indo-Pacific policy in which India has been given a major role by the US. In this regard, a good start would be to exert pressure on the Indian government to allow international media and human rights observers’ access to Illegally India Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IIOJ&K).
President Biden in his maiden foreign policy speech asserted that “America is back. Diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy”. He was referring to democratic values-based diplomacy that is cherished by the State Department. These values include human rights, rule of law, and democracy. Indian actions in Kashmir are a stringent rebuke to these values. Similarly, India’s slide into extremist society and an authoritarian regime should be of grave concern to the US.
In the same vein, the Sino-Pakistan strategic partnership is of concern to the US. The latter has tried pressuring Pakistan to distance itself from China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). A reset process can allow Pakistan the opportunity to address concerns raised by Washington. A comprehensive dialogue would not only clear such concerns, but it might also end up in the development of a mechanism for the U.S to become part of CPEC. At the very least, the US’ business firms should take advantage of the free trade agreement between China and Pakistan and use Pakistan as a regional base of operations for their trade with China.
The US and Pakistan had long enjoyed strong economic relations. The former used to be Pakistan’s largest trading partner since overtaken by China. Even today, the U.S is one of the biggest markets for Pakistani exports. The new administration has to devise a strategy to once again develop strong economic ties between both countries. Strong economic relations with the U.S in turn would likely allow Pakistan to balance its relations with both the economic superpowers.
The change of guard in Washington is always considered an opportunity for a reset in U.S-Pakistan relations. Mr. Biden is believed to be an old foreign policy hack. Owing to its geostrategic location, Pakistan would continue to play an important part in regional and international politics; and no one knows this better than POTUS himself. The US has long used Pakistan to secure its interest and left Islamabad to dry when it was of no use. Given this approach of the US, policymakers in Islamabad are very rightly reluctant to trust the US again and again. The mutual distrust needs to be resolved and there might not be a more suitable administration than the Biden to carry out this task.
Khawaja Dawood Tariq is a Senior Research Fellow at Strategic Vision Institute in Islamabad, Pakistan.