How Will Joe Biden’s Presidency Impact America’s South Asia Policy?
BY: Haroon Reshi
Srinagar, Nov 15: What would be Joe Biden’s South Asia policy after he takes over the White House in January next year? Will his policies regarding South Asia, particularly India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, be different from that of Donald Trump, the outgoing president of the United States? How will the new administrations deal with aggressive China and what will be its implications on the region? Will the new president be less Islamophobic than his predecessor?
These are frequently asked, and largely debated questions these days. Like elsewhere, political analysts here also have varied views on these vital questions.
In Kashmir, many have pinned their hope on the new set-up as the President-elect Biden and his deputy Kamala Harris have opposed the abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and have also criticized the curbs on freedom in this region during the past more than a year.
However, some analysts differ with this opinion. They say since the US has economic interests and long-term strategic stakes in India, the Biden administration will cautiously deal with New Delhi on issues such as human rights, minorities, and Kashmir.
We spoke to some veteran politicians and analysts to know their views on the change of US administration.
Here are the excerpts of the views they shared with us:
Prof. Noor Ahmad Baba
Former Head, Department of Political Sciences, University of Kashmir
The foreign policies of countries fundamentally have certain continuity in them as they stem from the larger strategic understanding they have of their own interests. Foreign policy is not the exclusive craft of presidents in the United States (US). The president no doubt influences crafting the policies, but there is also an institutional mechanism in place. The new policies go through various stages and departments where they are thoroughly looked at before being adopted. Then there is a variation regarding the way foreign policy is perceived. In the US, the fundamental difference between the predecessor presidents and the present administration under Donald Trump is that Trump is unpredictable. We saw him bringing his personal likes and dislikes into the relationships with other countries. He had also ignored the ideological and democratic traditions of the American policy.
I believe that Joe Biden would be operating more institutionally and he will not ignore these important American traditions while adopting his foreign policy. Democrats have never ever completely ignored the ideological commandment of the US towards human rights and other issues. I think Biden will not personalize his foreign policy. He will be more grounded in the larger understanding of the US policy.
Trump came almost from nowhere as far as internal politics of the US is concerned. Biden has a lot of experience. He has been in the Senate and he has also worked as the vice-president of the country. Therefore, there will be a difference in his foreign policy.
With India, Biden will not have a personal equation to bind the relationship of the two countries. I think he will bring in assessment of the situation of human rights, minority rights or the situation in Kashmir. These factors will surely be reflected in Biden administration’s policy vis-a-vis India.
We know that the Democrats (Biden included) have been critical of India’s actions in Kashmir, and there are strong lobbies in his party opposing Indian actions in Kashmir.
As far as Pakistan is concerned, the country will be having an important place in the US foreign policy because Pakistan is strategically an important country. Even Trump did not ignore Pakistan during his tenure. The US does not want Pakistan to be completely dependent on China. Biden will also not let Pakistan to fall into the lap of China. He will try to do some balancing, so that Pakistan is not completely lost to China.
Biden also has a reasonably good relationship with the Pakistani leadership. At one point of time, he was monitoring the situation in Afghanistan. That way he has a better understanding of Pakistani position on issues. This will also be a factor in his relationship with Pakistan.
Pakistan is also important for the US’s Afghanistan issues. As per my understanding, Biden will continue the process of withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan.
In relation to China, unlike Trump, Biden will be handling the bilateral relations with slightly more sophistication. I do not say that US-China relations will be calmer. America’s policy to try to contain China will not change but unlike Trump, the Biden administration will not posture as aggressively – to ban trade and other things with China. He will pursue his China policy in a more sophisticated way. The new US administration will try to have a cooperative relationship with that country.
Prof Saifuddin Soz
Senior Congress leader and former Union Minister
My impression is that the outgoing US president Donald Trump was an extremist. During his tenure he did choose to be at an extreme position in most of the situations and on every event. He created a situation of extremism in his country to the extent that even Republicans, including some of his colleagues, started disliking him.
Joe Biden is a real Democrat. He is sober by temperament. He explains his point-of-view very politely and in detail and makes people understand his opinion on issues.
I think that Biden administration will be kind to the people who are suffering aggression across the world. Biden and his colleagues have been talking in favor of human rights and the freedom of expression.
Even on the Kashmir issue, the Democrats have their ideology which is more reasonable than that of Trump. But at the same time, I would suggest that Kashmiris need to make their efforts for their rights. We should not even look to the Supreme Court for justice as some local political parties are suggesting we do. Ours is a political problem and it needs a political solution.
However, it is good that the Democrats, who are taking charge of the White House, have already been expressing their opinions on the Kashmir issue. I think Joe Biden and his deputy Kamala Harris will help to create a situation where dialogue on Kashmir can be held. They may also be promoting discussion on Kashmir and other issues.
Former judge of the High Court of J&K, National Conference leader and sitting Member of Parliament
I believe that the new US administration will be promoting the philosophy of Democrats. Democrats have always favored pluralism, human rights and the freedom of expression. That is what they stand for. Their expected policies are likely to have an impact on South Asian regions as well. Biden and his colleagues have already voiced their preferences regarding South Asia; so there will be a shift in America’s policy towards the region.
The world has turned into a global village and China is emerging as a source of influence in this region. This concerns the US. The new dispensation in the White House will surely try to have their say in this region about the issues. They will make sure no issue in this region gets out of control. So they will be supporting peace.
Another significant thing about South Asia is that India and Pakistan are the most important countries of this region. These countries cannot be ignored by the US; neither can the issues related to these countries be ignored. Even the US is going to rethink their ongoing bad relations with Iran.
They have not concealed and have openly expressed their displeasure on whatever the decisions were taken on August 05 last year on Kashmir by New Delhi. The vice president-elect Kamala Harris has also supported the aspirations of the people of Kashmir and their culture and identity. She has also talked about Kashmir and juvenile justice in Kashmir. Democrats have also expressed their displeasure on the curtailment of freedom of expression and the hate politics. As they are in power now, I don’t see any reason that they will not raise their voice in favor of Kashmir. I see a more proactive role of the new US administration regarding Kashmir in near future.
Zafar Iqbal Manhas
Writer, former MLC and Apni Party leader
In US, whichever government is in place always does what suits the country. Americans are least bothered about others. They are always after their national interest. ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’ is a famous saying about America. Those who think America will fight India for Kashmiris are mistaken.
Secondly, it is the US’s compulsion to have good relations with India. The US needs Pakistan only as far as Afghanistan situation is concerned. But it needs India this time as much as it needed Pakistan in the 1980’s.
Since India is a large country with some seasoned people as its policy makers, the country will not bend in front of the US as much as Pakistanis did during the 80’s. After Israel and Saudi Arabia, India is the third country which US would like to have as its ally.
Another important aspect of the recent elections in US is that Trump has been defeated but “Trumpism” still survive there. One cannot ignore the fact that Trump obtained more than 45 percent of the cast votes, even though the outgoing president destroyed the country.
However, this goes in favor of Trump that he wanted to save the country from unnecessary conflicts. He used to say that he was a leader of the US and not the leader of the world. He wanted to get US out of the conflicts elsewhere. That is why he decided to withdraw from Afghanistan.
Syed Riyaz Khawar
Senior Advocate of J&K High Court, and human rights activist
The outgoing US president Donald Trump was not pro-establishment and neither was the establishment in full agreement with him. But the president-elect Joe Biden is a pro-establishment leader. His party – the Democrats, have its own set of ideologies. With Joe Biden taking over the reins of power in US, his administration will surely have a foreign policy different from that of the Trump administration.
I think India will be facing a difficulty in building relations with the new US dispensation. The Biden administration may be critical on the issues like human rights in India. Prime Minister Modi had built a personal relationship with Trump. But Biden is different. Unlike Trump, he wants to become a world leader. He will try to impose his policies.
Democrats have been talking about the Kashmir issue and the human rights here. They have been vocally critical of New Delhi over the Citizenship Amendment Act and on human rights. They have a clear stand on these issues and they don’t change their ideology. However, I am not much optimistic about the Biden administration’s Kashmir approach. They may ask New Delhi to restore some degree of autonomy here, take care of the human rights and discriminatory laws, but they may not do much about the resolution of the Kashmir issue.
US has to sell arms to India. Conflicts world-over are exploited by big powers for their arms industry. India and Pakistan are also being used for this purpose. Once the conflicts end, it will have an impact on their domestic economies, which are already facing recession.
Joe Biden will not change US policy towards China because the US will safeguard its status as world power and will do everything to try to contain the dragon. However, he will go soft as far as Iran is concerned. I think the new US administration will restore the nuclear deal with Iran.
As for as Pakistan is concerned, even Donald Trump always gave equal treatment to India and Pakistan. He was given a warm welcome in Gujarat but even then he praised Pakistan in that rally. In front of Modi, he said that Pakistan was helping US to come out of Afghanistan and do away with terrorism. Biden also will be soft on Pakistan. He has already been in good relations with Pakistanis. He knows the Pakistani politicians and politics. Pakistan has honoured Biden with Nishan-e-Pakistan, the second-highest civilian honor. He will surely be soft towards Pakistan and Iran but will be harsh on Afghanistan. I think Biden will also delay withdrawing forces from Afghanistan.
Biden will lift the ban imposed by Trump on seven Muslim countries, but he will be tough on some Arab Muslim nations. He will not be Islamophobic but I think Prince Selman (Saudi Arabia’s crown prince) will have to face music on Jamal Khashoggi’s killing case.
At last, I would say that more wars are expected in Biden’s regime because there is a history of waging wards in different parts of the world whenever the Democrats were in power.
Political Analyst and Editor Chattan
I think Joe Biden will be contrast to his predecessor in terms of his policies regarding South Asian countries. Trump used to involve his personal preferences to every situation to gain some domestic political advantages. He decided to withdraw US forces from the Afghanistan only because he thought it would help him win elections back home. He attended Prime Minister Modi’s Houston rally in America and addressed the participants just to allure Indian-American vote bank.
Joe Biden is a mature politician who believes in the institutional mechanisms. I believe that the Biden administration will now slow down the withdrawal process in Afghanistan. However, I think the new administration at White House will also take cognizance of the Kashmir situation.
Unlike the Trump administration, the Biden will speak out on things like curbs, detentions of political leaders and other things happening in Kashmir. I also think Biden may pursue a grudge against Narendra Modi for raising slogans like ‘Ab Ki Baar Trump Sarkar’ on American soil during the Houston rally.
Indian diplomats may have to deal with tough situations while building relationship with the new dispensation in the United States. But at the same time, I think the bilateral trade and security-related cooperation between the two countries will flourish in near future.