Joe Biden and Pakistan
Joe Biden and Pakistan

Frank Islam (Washington): After months of trench warfare and 84 seemingly endless hours of counting votes, the verdict is finally in: Joseph R. Biden, Jr. is the president-elect of the United States. He will take office as the 46thPresident on January 20, 2021.

The quadrennial dance of democracy ended exactly the way many had feared: in a deeply divided country and a closer contest than some would have liked. Those who were hoping for a landslide Biden win, as several opinion polls had predicted, were disappointed.

But one thing is certain: the American electorate has delivered a number of clear messages, some of them heartening and others not so encouraging.

First and foremost, it has made Donald Trump a one-term president. He becomes only the fourth White House incumbent to lose the reelection bid. The U.S. will benefit immensely from the exit of one of the most divisive presidents in modern history.

The second positive message to emerge is the Americans’ commitment to democracy. An estimated 160 million people cast their votes, braving the worst pandemic in more than a century. With more than two-thirds of the eligible voters exercising their franchise, it was the highest voter participation percentage in over one hundred years.

Joe Biden’s victory provides the potential to change the US society positively and to send positive waves of change around the world to South Asia and Pakistan.

I have written earlier that Biden led America’s recovery from the Great Recession more than a decade ago and contributed to the world’s recovery as well.  He has the capacity to repeat that history as we address the global pandemic and economic crises.

Biden’s accomplishing this will not be easy due to Trump’s destructive record as an ‘isolationist’ President with a haphazard approach to tackling issues in the U.S. and internationally.  His ‘America First’ policy led to the nullification of many international agreements and to restructuring trade deals.  All of this was done without assessing the long-term impact on the US economy and its status as a world leader.

Trump’s main focus as president was to appease his fan base at the cost of deep divisions in an American society known for its diversity and multicultural heritage.   It resulted in controversial immigration policies and racial injustice.

President-elect Joe Biden provides a stark contrast to President Donald Trump. Based upon his personality, I have referred to him in the past as a “person of three I’s”: Internationalist; Integration; and Insight.

In the Senate, Biden served on the powerful Foreign Relations Committee for three decades and for a period of time was its chair. As Vice-President, he played a critical role in helping to develop Obama’s administration policy on Afghanistan, Iraq, and other conflict areas.

Contrary to Trump, Biden would support immigration policies that are neither “morally bankrupt” nor “racist.” The policies of his administration would be beneficial to all groups such as s Muslims, Latin Americans and South Asians, which were used as soft targets by Trump.

One can find Biden’s ‘openness for all communities’ in his Ramadan message this year.

“Next year, we hope that Muslim Americans will gather together once again to celebrate and pray alongside friends and neighbors during Ramadan. And if I have the honor of being elected President, the annual White House Eid celebration will be reinstated, and the doors of the White House will reopen as a home for all Americans – and a workplace made stronger by the contributions and ideas of Muslim public servants.”

What does Biden’s election mean for Pakistan?

There will be a fresh start in policy for Pakistan and other South Asian countries. Trump’s foreign policy has largely been personal and transactional. He routinely ignored the U.S. Department of State which has the world’s largest collection of foreign policy experts.

Under the Biden administration, the bilateral relations with Pakistan will go back to being institutionally-centered and subject-matter expert-driven. Biden understands Pakistan better than most of the American Presidents. As former vice president, member and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden has a long history of interface with Pakistan.

As Vice President, he had a major role in shaping the landmark Kerry-Lugar Bill signed into law in 2009.  That Bill provided $7.5 billion of non-military aid to Pakistan from 2010 to 2014.

Biden has visited Pakistan several times. During one visit in 2015, he was given the Hilal-e-Pakistan, Pakistan’s top civilian award for the role he played in contributing to democracy and social-economic development in Pakistan.

I expect that the Biden administration will resume the U.S.’s pro-Pakistan policies including engagement with politicians, supporting free and fair elections, strengthening democratic institutions as well as providing essential aid to Pakistan’s economy and trade.

In an interview – given some time back – with New York-based Pakistani Journalist Azeem S Mian, Biden indicated that his administration would give billion dollars aid to help Pakistan’s economy keep going, to develop infrastructure and to promote education.

He went on to state “I propose that our policy should not be based on an individual but on Pakistani people making it clear that it is unconditional. We are prepared to give $ 1 billion or $ 5oo million economic aid every year to Pakistan. Thirdly, I think that we should make it very clear that any military aid would be transparent… ”

Some areas in the Pakistan-U.S. relationship with Biden as President and under his administration will be more complex.

Senior Pakistan journalist Talat Hussain says in an article, ‘A Biden presidency can also be tough on issues that directly involve Pakistan’s establishment like the Financial Action Task Force requirements and also extremist groups activities but that framework can also bring extra focus on the Kashmir dispute where Biden has taken a rather strong position using the human rights framework of reference.’

A major issue will be tackling the ongoing Afghan peace process. This is definitely a complicated area.  But Biden will bring his experience to the table to help address Afghan peace problems while keeping in view of the interests of regional players such as Pakistan and India.

Contrary to Trump’s proposed plan of pulling out all the military troops, Biden has a more strategic approach to Afghanistan. He has repeatedly said that he would bring the majority of U.S. troops back except for ‘special missions’ to fight any possible threat from al-Qaeda and Islamic State fighters.

Finally, there is the continuing and contentious Pakistan-India standoff. There are no easy answers on how to resolve the problematic matters between these two nations.

One can hope, however, that given Biden’s substantial insights and those who he will bring to the table, that they will be able to help make some progress on that front too.  His administration should have the credibility to involve India in a meaningful way. This will enable Pakistan to have the right environment to improve its own economic conditions.

In summary, after a chaotic and tortuous 4-year period with Trump in office, Joe Biden’s victory and Presidency will bring soothing winds of positive change and progress to the United States, Pakistan and the world.

(The writer is an Entrepreneur, Civic Leader, and Thought Leader based in Washington DC. The views expressed here are personal)