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Biden as president: second chance to improve US-Pakistan relations

Could he finally bring prosperity to the region?

SAMAA | - Posted: Nov 9, 2020 | Last Updated: 1 year ago
Posted: Nov 9, 2020 | Last Updated: 1 year ago

Photo: AFP

Joe Biden’s ascent to the US presidency is cause for both celebration and speculation in Pakistan. Four years of questionable domestic policies and foreign relations under President Donald Trump will come to an end, but a look at previous administrations reveals strained US-Pakistan relations as well. Will Biden’s return to the White House improve US-Pakistan relations soured under the Obama administration?

Pakistan and the US have a complicated relationship that took a turn for the worse when Obama and Biden were in office. There were more drone strikes under the Obama administration alone–353 strikes and over 3,000 civilian casualties–than under Bush and Trump combined, according to think tank New America.

“America does not take strikes to punish individuals; we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people, and when there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat,” Obama said while speaking at the National Defense University in 2013. 

Throughout his two terms as president, Obama continuously defended the escalated use of drone warfare, admitting only occasionally that civilian casualties were a shame. 

He claimed the increased drone strikes were to restore the civilian government in Afghanistan so American troops could return home, using Pakistan as a fighting ground for this ‘noble’ cause. Yet it was Obama’s successor Trump who held talks with Prime Minister Imran Khan last year to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan.

“I think Pakistan is going to help us out to extricate ourselves,” Trump said at his official meeting with PM Khan at the White House in 2019. His promises to recall US troops from Afghanistan were followed by tangible progress and are much more credible than what Obama and Biden hoped for in their term.

Obama’s charismatic presidency allowed Biden to avoid answering questions on foreign policy, but as president now he will have to take a firm stance on drone warfare and America’s relations with Pakistan.

But in conjunction with increased drone strikes, Biden personally pushed for diplomatic relations with Pakistan. He initiated the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act in 2009 that authorised $7.5 billion in non-military aid to Pakistan over five years. He was even awarded the Hilal-e-Pakistan in 2011 by then president Asif Ali Zardari for improving the economy of Pakistan.

He has already vowed to end Trump’s “Muslim ban” on the first day of his presidency. Additionally, Biden’s frequent visits to Pakistan could be a plus point in taking bilateral relations to greater heights than his predecessors could.

PM Khan’s congratulatory tweet to Biden and Kamala Harris affirms his commitment to work with the US to bring peace to Afghanistan and the region. It will be up to Biden to navigate US-Pakistan-Afghanistan relations and move toward a relationship not contingent on Afghanistan and strategic regional relations.

Biden could be the first US president to foster a productive relationship with Pakistan, finally bringing prosperity to the region.

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