US 2020: Joe Biden Presidency – Implications for Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Region
By Professor Ijaz Khan
Joe Biden is the new President elect of the United States. He will take office on 20 January 2021. Now, the question for us is, what Biden Presidency will mean for us in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the broader region. Though most Foreign Policy is bi partisan in the US, there is a difference in emphasis. Also, personal style matters. Democrats, relatively give more importance to Human rights and issues of Democracy than Republicans. Democrats also prefer a multilateral approach than the Republican unilateralism. However, it must be understood, the difference is of degree and a little emphasis, not of either/ or. If serious US interests demands, democrats can shut their eyes from Human rights abuses and go unilateral and Republicans can talk of respect for Human Rights, Democracy and go multilateral.
Though he agrees with Trump on withdrawal from Afghanistan, how he goes about it may make a real on ground difference. As democrat, Women rights and other gains made in the past 20 years, in area of relative democratization and emergence of a relative liberal segment in Afghanistan would be relatively more important for him. He also has been expressing support for a more orderly withdrawal. He may insist on keeping a small force back in Afghanistan and will probably insist on respect for commitment of Taliban vis a vis Al Qaeda and reduction in violence more than Trump did. However, we must remember, the difference will not be radical, but of degree and a little more emphasis here and there and less emphasis elsewhere.
According to US system, Donald Trump will remain President till 20 Jan, 2021. Though, traditionally, he is not expected to take any major decisions, without consultation of the new President elect, but legally and constitutionally he will be full President with all powers of a president. Knowing Trump, he may push for his policy preferences without taking into consideration his transitionary status. Thus Trump and so Khalilzad may rush things to get their preferred results before they leave. That rush may further the existing chaos in Afghanistan and by extension, the region.
Even, when Biden takes over, we have to watch, whether he retains Khalilzad to lead US policy on Afghan peace process or replaces him. In US, it has been done in the past, that a new President of a different party retains some Secretary or other official of the outgoing administration for some time, to finish a certain policy process without any change. So, Biden’s decision on Khalilzad, when he takes over will be a better indictor for his policy on Afghanistan and thus by extension on Pakistan and the region.
Traditionally Democrats has been more closer to India than Pakistan. However, that has been when Indian secular and democratic credentials were not injured by Modi. It must be reminded once again, such conceptual issues do have an impact, but are and have been ignored when US interests demands. The improvement in India US relations had continued whether Democrats or Republicans ruled USA. So, the impact of Modi may be of degree and if Pakistan is able to show its Human Rights and Democratic record to be better, along with other hard political issues like on Afghanistan and counter terrorism/ extremism Biden presidency can be more receptive to its interests.
Another important policy issue to watch out for is Iran. Joe Biden has publicly shown preference for revival of US commitment to the Nuclear deal with Iran. How much will he go for reviving that deal with Iran very important for the whole region. That will have implications for the nascent China (and Russia) Pakistan Iran alignment. Change in US policy towards Iran will also impact India Iran relations. Those relations that had been seeing a slowing down if not an all-out downturn, may see a revival, as changed US Iran policy will mean, at the minimum, end to sanctions. Such a revival will have impact on Indian reach to Afghanistan and Central Asia, thus Pakistan’s Afghan policy and Afghan peace process.
They say ‘America sneezes and the rest of the world gets cold/fever’. To repeat, broader US foreign policy and towards the region will not see radical changes, however, even minor changes in US policy may have serious implications (both negative and positive) for the region.
About Professor Khan
Professor Ijaz Khan is a Senior Managing Partner of Research for Peace, Democracy and Development in Peshwar, Pakistan and former Chair, Department of International Relations, University of Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. A member Human Right Commission of Pakistan. Author of “Pakistan’s Strategic Culture and Foreign Policy Making” as well as a Consultant / Researcher on issues of Security, Peace, Human Rights, Democratisation, Governance, Politics, Foreign Policy with reference to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Pashtuns & Newly Merged Districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He can be contacted at ikkha[email protected]
or via his blog at https://ijazk.blogspot.com/
Image Credit: Gage_Skidmore