Frank Islam (Washington): The Covid-19 pandemic dominated the news in Pakistan and the United States in the month of April. During that same time period, it became clear that Joe Biden would be the Democratic candidate to challenge President Donald Trump who is running for re-election as the Republican candidate.
What would Biden’s being President as opposed to Donald Trump mean for future relations between Pakistan and the United States? To speculate on that, let me first look at what those relations have been and most likely will be with Trump in office for a second term.
The ties between Pakistan and the U.S. during Trump’s first term can be characterized as satisfactory. In remarks on America’s strategy with regard to Afghanistan and South Africa made in August 2017 before Imran Khan became Prime Minister Trump said Pakistan gives “safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror” and challenged Pakistan to “demonstrate its commitment to civilization.”
Since Prime Minister Khan has been in office, Trump’s approach has been more conciliatory and collaborative. Most recently, Trump had a call with Khan in which they discussed coordination in responding to Covid-19 and Trump promised U.S. medical and economic assistance to help Pakistan deal with it.
In 2019, Trump had also offered assistance to mediate in the conflict between Pakistan and India on the Kashmir conflict. That offer which was unwelcome by India went nowhere.
In perspective, while there has been some positive rhetoric from Trump regarding Pakistan there has been little forward progress toward substantively improving the ties between the two nations. It is most likely this would remain the status during a second term if Trump were to win re-election. This would be the case because of Trump’s “3-I’s”: Isolationist; Immigration; and India.
Donald Trump is an isolationist. His foreign policy is “America first.” This has led to nullifying many international agreements and restructuring trade deals with individual countries to try to make them look more advantageous to the U.S.
The U.S used to be the leader on the world stage. Today, it has virtually abandoned it. An example of this is that even though Trump offered some modest assistance to Pakistan on Covid-19 it came late and was little. China, on the other hand, reached out around the globe to provide substantial assistance to hard-hit countries including Pakistan.
Trump’s stance as a hardliner on immigration and closing the borders on immigrants is well documented. His call during the presidential campaign for a “complete shutdown” on Muslims entering the United States is evidence that the Islamic religion is one of the factors at the top of his list for controlling immigration.
Finally, even though Trump has fought with India on occasions and continues to do so on a trade deal, over the past year or so he has engaged in a virtual love fest with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He was on the stage for Modi’s massive Howdy Modi rally in Houston in September 2019. Modi returned the favor by hosting Trump’s Namaste Trump visit to India in February of this year. This was seen by many as a political rather than a diplomatic gambit by Trump to get the Indian Americans who are increasingly influential in the U.S. vote to support him in this election year.
Former Vice President Joe Biden provides a stark contrast to President Donald Trump. His 3 I’s are Internationalist; Integration; and Insight. His track record is unrivaled. He served in the U.S. Senate for 36 years and as Vice President for President Barack Obama for eight years.
In the Senate, he served on the powerful Foreign Relations Committee for three decades and was also its chair. As Vice-President, he played a lead role in helping develop the Obama’s administration policy on Afghanistan, Iraq and other conflict areas. Both positions gave Biden the opportunity to gain considerable knowledge of and exposure to Pakistan.
As Vice President, he had input into shaping the landmark Kerry-Lugar Bill signed into law in 2009 which provided $7.5 billion of non-military aid to Pakistan between 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.
Looking forward, Biden will not be learning on the job. He will bring his experience to the table to help solve problems and issues that matter to Pakistan directly and indirectly. He has set out his plans related to this thoroughly.
For example, he would bring U.S. combat troops out of Afghanistan through a diplomatic effort that would include Afghanistan’s neighbors. Those are not mere words. When he was Vice President, Biden was one of the few governmental leaders who spoke out against increasing troop strength in Afghanistan.
Biden would have insights on China and the skills necessary to moderate its influence within the Transpacific region. He would also 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.
Biden would make the United States a world leader again in confronting the crippling problems of climate change, shrinking democracy, and Covid-19. He would:
- renew the U.S. commitment to the 2015 Paris climate agreement and push for more ambitious targets.
- convene a “Summit for Democracy’ of all democratic nations to combat rising authoritarianism.
- lead an expanded global response to Covid-19.
Finally, he would support immigration policies that are neither “morally bankrupt” or “racist.” This commitment is shown in Biden’s 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. Until we are able to come together again, Jill and I wish Muslim families Ramadan Mubarak and all our best wishes for the holy month ahead.”
That message from Biden and the others cited herein are vital for the future of U.S. Pakistan ties. They speak volumes.
(Frank F. Islam is an Entrepreneur, Civic Leader, and Thought Leader based in Washington DC. The views expressed here are personal)