Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi shared his opinions about Pakistan’s future relationship with the US under a Biden administration on Sunday. Qureshi believes that Biden will have a different approach than Trump, saying the incoming administration would, “prefer negotiations over confrontation” with Pakistan, according to Pakistan media.
Qureshi’s vision of future US-Pakistan relationship is reasonable. A Biden administration will help thaw relations between the US and Pakistan that have been damaged under Trump.
For years, the close ties between the US and Pakistan have been sustained by Pakistan’s substantial contribution to the “war on terror” in Afghanistan. But the bilateral relationship has experienced a sharp break since the Trump administration took a tougher line on Islamabad. Trump cut US aid to Pakistan in 2018 and accused Pakistan of not doing enough to combat terrorists — accusing the country of only spewing “lies and deceit.” While Trump and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan have attempted to reset ties between the two countries, Trump’s capriciousness has failed to bring the relationship back to the amity that defined it with previous administrations.
Trump’s hard-line approach to Pakistan is part of the administration’s move against China in the great-power competition. It made India a more valuable strategic partner for the US as well with the Indo-Pacific Strategy. Therefore, Trump had to adjust foreign policy on Pakistan, China’s friend and India’s rival. The adjustment, to a certain extent, wrote off the contribution Pakistan has made over the years to the US war on terror, and also indirectly weakened Pakistan’s special status in international affairs.
But the Biden administration’s understanding of the strategic role that Pakistan plays in the US’ global agenda is different from Trump’s. Biden will get back to the old track of acknowledging and valuing Pakistan’s contribution to the US fight against terrorism and will continue to use the viable partnership with the country to promote the Afghan peace process.
It is a fair prediction that the Afghan peace process cannot be finished in the short term. Whether the US’ deal with the Taliban can be fully implemented remains uncertain. Changes can happen to the situation in Afghanistan as the pace of the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan changes. The danger of terrorism will always be there. In this case, Pakistan’s value in ensuring the stability of the Afghan situation should still be counted.
Therefore, it can be expected that US-Pakistan relations will become better after Biden takes office on January 20, 2021. Biden will reorient Pakistan policy toward more pragmatic cooperation.
Biden might also encourage Pakistan to continue to act as a critical ally in the war on terror and promote peace and security in Afghanistan. This will require Washington to reset some cooperation mechanisms with Islamabad and resume aid to the country.
Moreover, Biden will not push Pakistan as hard as Trump did. Anti-terrorism campaigns are painstaking and complicated processes. Pakistan itself has some sensitive issues at home, and the US needs to understand and take care of Pakistan’s feelings. It will need to walk a fine line to promote cooperation between the US and Pakistan on issues relating to Afghanistan and anti-terrorism with a pragmatic attitude.
Surely, practical cooperation between Washington and Islamabad will not affect the US’ continued strengthening of its military ties with India in the Indo-Pacific region in order to contain China. The signing of the US-India military cooperation agreement has irreversibly moved the two countries toward a more comprehensive military alliance.
Therefore, conflict between India and Pakistan will become a very sensitive factor for US strategy in South Asia. In the future, Washington should strike a balance in its policy with both New Delhi and Islamabad so that the two countries can perform their corresponding and important functions for the US. That is to say: India’s role in containing China in its Indo-Pacific strategy and Pakistan’s role in counter-terrorism in the Afghan region.
As for China, despite the current China-US confrontation, Pakistan’s cooperation with the US will not have much difference on its special relationship with China. China is particularly important to Pakistan’s development strategy. Everyone knows that Pakistan will continue to comprehensively strengthen cooperation with China. It is even possible for Beijing, Islamabad and Washington to have constructive dialogues and cooperative measures to confront terrorism in the future.
The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Wan Lin based on an interview with Fu Xiaoqiang, a research fellow with China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.