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View | Biden may not like Pakistan much but his team seems to love it – a year after a ‘downgrade’ in ties

View | Biden may not like Pakistan much but his team seems to love it – a year after a ‘downgrade’ in ties

View | Biden may not like Pakistan much but his team seems to love it – a year after a ‘downgrade’ in ties
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By Sriram Iyer  Oct 22, 2022 9:50:12 AM IST (Updated)

While the American government’s rhetoric, and even policies, reflect a hawkish caution for team Xi Jinping in Beijing, many words, gestures, and significant acts of support for Pakistan, from Washington D.C., have come at a time when US ties with India are strained.

On October 15, US President Joe Biden described Pakistan as 'the most dangerous nation' for having nuclear weapons 'without any cohesion'. However, a series of recent events show that some of the top people in his administration are showering goods and goodwill on Pakistan for its myriad problems, including the one that the US hates the most – Islamabad’s friendship with China.

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While the American government’s rhetoric, and even policies, reflect a hawkish caution for team Xi Jinping in Beijing, many words, gestures, and significant acts of support for Pakistan, from Washington DC, have come at a time when US ties with India are strained.
New Delhi’s refusal to stop buying oil from Russia after its President Vladimir Putin decided to attack Ukraine has been an irritant for team Biden. One may read the US’ overtures towards Pakistan as a message to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that his foreign policy towards Russia needs to fall in line if it wants the US’ support to isolate the administration in Islamabad, on global forums, for supporting cross-border terrorism. 
While India has remained firm in its position from day one, the US’ latest approach shows a lack of consistency in its foreign policy. It is in contradiction to its sermons about having friendships based on shared values. It is resorting to a similar kind of realpolitik that it blames India for i.e., taking a nuanced stance instead of a moral high ground.
The American flip flop
Exactly a year ago, the US and Pakistan were fuming at each other over the colossal debacle in the two-decades-long war in Afghanistan. "We don't see ourselves building a broad relationship with Pakistan, and we have no interest in returning to the days of hyphenated India-Pakistan," Wendy Sherman, US deputy secretary of state, had said in October 2021.
Cut to September 2022, here’s what US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken had to say, “We will continue to stand by Pakistan, to stand by its people, today and in the days to come, because that's what we've done for each other in both directions through much of our shared history. And we have worked together to confront global threats. We continue to work closely on counterterrorism issues.”
On October 4, the Pakistani army chief General Javed Bajwa – who conspicuously remained silent when former Prime Minister Imran Khan launched a tirade against America – got an “enhanced honor cordon” at the Pentagon, just like the Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh did in April 2022. In the weeks since the American defence establishment’s generous treatment of General Bajwa, the Border Security Force in India had to shoot down multiple drones sent across the border from Pakistan.
“Nothing better illustrates Biden’s neglect of the relationship with India than the fact that, since he took office, there has been no US ambassador in New Delhi. Meanwhile, the US ambassador to Pakistan, Donald Blome, caused an uproar during a visit to the Pakistan-held part of Kashmir, which he called by its Pakistani name – “Azad (Liberated) Jammu and Kashmir” – instead of “Pakistan administered Kashmir,” as the United Nations calls it,” wrote strategic affairs expert Brahma Chellaney in a recent article. Chellaney also argues that India’s relationship with the US has fared better when the Republicans have been in power.
Things seem to have changed since the recent floods that wrecked Pakistan. According to Unicef, the natural disaster affected 33 million people, and about half were children. The economic damage could be over $30 billion, an estimate shared by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Shehbaz Sharif.
In October 2022, the United Nations raised its humanitarian aid appeal for Pakistan five-fold to $816 million, as a surge in water-borne diseases and fear of growing hunger pose new dangers after the unprecedented floods.
The International Monetary Fund resumed negotiations, which had stopped for nearly seven months, for a $6.5 billion aid sought by Pakistan. In August, it even released a loan of $1.17 billion to help the country recover from the devastation of the floods.
However, help didn’t stop with flood relief and humanitarian aid alone. The Biden administration released a $450 million package to modernise Pakistan’s fleet of F-16 fighter jets. Blinken and Blome’s generous comments in favour of Pakistan, and to India’s annoyance, have followed in the weeks thereafter.
This is in sharp contrast to how the world in general, views Pakistan. Islamabad has become notorious for requesting handouts without conducting any meaningful reforms, Yousuf Nazar, a London-based economist, told Nikkei Asia in a recent interview.
In an increasingly multi-polar world, countries won’t take dictation from superpowers on who they can be friends with. And no friendship that is based on money alone is likely to be significant in the long run. For example, Emily Hoyakem of the International Institute of Strategic Studies said that the US-Saudi Arabia relationship “has become cold and transactional” and is at an all-time low in his estimate.
Meanwhile, Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif is also now planning a visit to China in November to ask for some discount on the country’s debt that is due to its only friend on the eastern border.
If the US wants to reverse the decline in its global influence, the first step will be to have a consistent foreign policy that earns the trust of its international partners. Persuasion, not prescription, is the new norm of global politics that the US needs to understand sooner than later.
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