US-Pakistan Relations Post Trump Administration

Prof. Chintamani Mahapatra
December 27th, 2020


Image Courtesy: Nikkei Asia

The Trump Administration came heavily upon Pakistan and punished it for playing the double game for far too long in Afghanistan. Pakistan received billions of dollars of US military and economic assistance under different heads and yet continued to give material support to the Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, who were at war against the US military and NATO forces. 

President Trump was blunt when he tweeted that “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools.”  He did not mince words when he said that “They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”  He then cut off more than a billion dollar of military assistance to Pakistan and also debarred Pakistani military officers from undergoing training in the US under the IMET (International Military Education and Training) programme. 

Joe Biden, the president-elect, will succeed President Donald Trump in January 2021 and Pakistan, like many other countries, is anxiously waiting to see what the next US Administration would do or not do, those may affect the country’s relations with the United States.

Many Pakistani analysts had expressed the opinion that Joe Biden would change course, restore foreign assistance, and build cordial ties with Pakistan, as he is expected to draw down troops from Afghanistan. Pakistan’s cooperation is considered essential for ending US military presence in Afghanistan and/or concluding a peace deal with the Taliban. 

Pakistani commentators also believe that Joe Biden was bestowed the Hilal-e-Pakistan, the prestigious Pakistani award; he was instrumental in the enactment of Kerry-Lugar bill that aimed at enhancing relations with Pakistan in 2009; that he understands the dynamics of South Asian politics and has visited multiple times to Pakistan and thus US-Pakistan relations would be back on the rail in coming years under the Biden Administration. Pakistani foreign policy analysts enthusiastically cite an old statement by Joe Biden that Pakistan is fifty percent more important to the United States than Afghanistan.

Some Pakistanis are jubilant that unlike Donald Trump, Joe Biden has not kept his silence on abrogation of Article 370 by India and turning Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris was rather more vocal in expressing concern and the progressive groups within the Democratic Party are still more opposed to India’s Kasmir policy. There are misplaced hopes in Pakistan that Joe Biden administration will be more sympathetic towards Pakistan’s position on Kashmir and that Kashmir issue may actually create a dent in Indo-US strategic partnership. 

Pakistani lobby in Washington is hopeful of increasing their engagements with the liberal opinion in the US to highlight their interpretations of human rights and minority rights issues in India and craft a political clash between India and the United States. 

There are nonetheless sane voices in Pakistan who realize that Biden Administration is not going to keep silent over human rights and minority rights situation in Pakistan. These voices are well aware of Pakistan’s vulnerabilities, such as its treatment of its minorities, the role of the country in fostering terrorism, its precarious economic conditions, its so-called all-weather friendship with China, its limitations in influencing the behaviour and activities of the Taliban and the age-old transactional relations between the US and Pakistan. 

Pakistan has never enjoyed a stable, stand-alone and sound bilateral relationship with the United States. Developments in three countries and their relationship with the United States have actually determined the depth and extent of US-Pakistan alliances in the 21st century. These countries are India, China and Afghanistan. 

The future relations between Pakistan and the United States will be shaped by what kind of policies Joe Biden Administration adopts towards the above three countries. First, US-Indian strategic partnership has had an upward trajectory through successive Republican and Democratic administrations and even Biden administration is going to give a further boost to it. India will be treated as a key country in Biden’s approach towards the Indo-Pacific where managing China will be the principal component. Pakistan’s dream of a disrupted US-India strategic partnership will not see the light of the day.

Secondly, it may be the wish of Islamabad to see China-US bonhomie, but even this is farfetched. While the tone and language of Biden’s China policy will be drastically different from that of Donald Trump, none expects anything other than a tough rivalry between the United States and China for power, influence and economic/technological superiority. Closer Pakistan goes towards China, longer will be the political-strategic distance between Washington and Islamabad.

Finally, the future of Afghanistan will surely influence the nature and extent of the US engagements with Pakistan. Joe Biden does not support a complete withdrawal now and hopes to keep the minimum force of the US military for counter-terrorism purposes. It is still a hope. If the Taliban, instead of holding talks, makes its guns and bombs speak, US will not pardon Pakistan—the main accomplice in violent activities of the Taliban. If the US withdraws completely from Afghanistan, Pakistan will be irrelevant as a strategic ally. It would be reminiscent of what happened after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. If the US persist in maintaining troops and the Taliban remains an insurgent force, Pakistan will continue to be a suspect. 

There appears to be no better days for Pakistan as far as its relationship with the Biden Administration is concerned.