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January 29, 2021 5:49 pm

Biden and Kashmir

Maps used in the image are purely for representational purposes

With democrats in power, US policies towards South Asia are expected to nuance a bit and may be in some areas go through a  makeover

THERE has been some sense of relief in the world after Joe Biden took over as the US president, replacing Donald Trump who during his tumultuous four years polarized America, undermined global institutions and also encouraged dictatorial leaders in other countries. In Kashmir too, Biden has generated some hope. Sections of people expect him and his colleague Kamala Harris to be more sensitive to the situation in Kashmir. During their campaign, both Biden and Harris raised the then prevailing security lockdown and communication blockade in Kashmir and sought an end to it. In a policy paper last year, Biden campaign said that he wanted India to take necessary steps to restore the rights of Kashmiris. The paper also said that the restrictions on dissent, such as preventing peaceful protests or shutting or slowing down the internet, weakens democracy. According to the paper, Biden had expressed disappointment over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the implementation of the NRC in Assam as well.

Similarly, Harris called for international intervention “to remind Kashmiris that they are not alone in the world” soon after New Delhi revoked Kashmir’s special autonomous status and split it into two Union Territories in August 2019.

So, shall the Biden administration now live up to these statements and raise the situation in Kashmir with New Delhi? This is quite possible. Broadly, the US policies towards South Asia are expected to nuance a bit and may in some areas go through a conspicuous makeover.  But in so far as 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 the US decisively reached out to India,  the relations between the two countries have moved to the 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 d’etre. 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 and regional 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. Fresh scuffle between the two armies, this time at settled Sikkim border underlines that the stand-off is likely to escalate in future. Fifteen hour long ninth round of talks between the military commanders of the two countries held on January 24  has once again failed to yield an agreement on restoring the status quo ante. The US under Trump had thrown its weight behind 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 superpowers 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. This will make Kashmir occasionally a topic of discussion for the US with India, albeit that might make no difference to the ground situation in the former state.

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. In fact, the new US administration has already decided to review the Afghan peace accord. It will assess whether the Taliban is reducing violence in keeping with its side of the deal in the  accord. But at the same time it is unlikely that the US would walk back on the agreement. It is just a matter of time before the Taliban would return to power in Afghanistan. And this will further redefine the regional geo-politics and unleash factors that could force some readjustment in the outlooks of the neighbouring countries. Some experts have talked about the prospect of the militancy in Kashmir receiving some fillip.And others have argued for the unlikelihood of such a prospect as the regional situation now is too transformed to allow a repeat of the nineties. But as of now there’s no telling how the situation will play out in Kashmir and regionally too as the three major countries – India, China and Pakistan – seek to adjust their policies vis-a-vis one another and the US looks to safeguard its interests in the region.

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

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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Riyaz Wani

Riyaz Wani is the Political Editor at Kashmir Observer