Biden and South Asia

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WITH the US president-elect Joe Biden set to replace the incumbent Donald Trump in January, the US policies towards South Asia are expected to nuance a bit and may be in some areas go through a conspicuous makeover. As for the US relations with India, and their growing closeness, this is unlikely to change.

Ever since the former US president Bill Clinton’s visit to India in 2000, when US decisively reached out to India, the relations between the two countries have moved to next level. Economy apart, their cooperation across a broad array of geo-political issues has intensified. Besides, regional dynamics have changed fast over the past two decades. The US-Pakistan relations have lost their old raison de’tere. China’s rise and expanding clout together with India’s importance as a regional counterweight has redrawn the US priorities in the region. Such a shift has profoundly impacted the nature of issues like Kashmir. In the ongoing gradual shift from a unipolar to a bi-polar world, India is asserting itself as a global power. This has now firmly ruled out the chances of outside mediation on Kashmir if ever there was one.

No doubt, new regional challenges have cropped up over the last year. China’s incursions in Ladakh have created a possibility of a bigger confrontation between the two Asian giants. The US under Trump had thrown its weight around India, a policy whose continuation may look moot under Biden. It also depends on whether the Biden administration will continue Trump’s confrontationist approach towards China or prefer negotiation over their trading issues. Any understanding between the two super powers will nuance the US slant towards India. Democrats will be back to seeing mutual, shared democratic values of religious freedom, tolerance and democracy as underpinning the India-US relationship. A shared enemy in China alone will not be enough.

However, Biden administration could be beneficial to India on many counts. For example, unlike with Trump, a trade agreement with the US may be easier to work out. Also on immigration and HIB visas the path could be smoother. Tech companies both in the US and India will get much-needed relief if the visa issue is cleared.

Many observers also expect some accommodation of Pakistan in the new US administration. In 2008, Pakistan had conferred Biden with the second highest civilian honor, ‘Hilal-e-Pakistan’. Joe Biden and Senator Richard Lugar were behind the proposal to bring $ 1.5 billion non-military aid to Pakistan. Biden will also want to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, but he’ll be a steadier hand. Here’s hoping that unlike Trump whose approach was transactional in nature, Biden administration takes a more integrated view of the regional situation in his dealings. This alone will help promote the cause of regional peace than a disparate approach pursued by Trump.

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