INDO – US RELATIONS UNDER NEW US ADMINISTRATION By Latheef Farook

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Indian government had been publicly supporting Trump’s victory in US Presidential election of 3 November 2020; all efforts have gone wasted and ended on defeat of it ‘beloved President’.

India benefited from United States’ diplomatic support at United Nations Security Council including the listing of Pakistani nationalists. US also supported India against China during recent Indo-China Line of Actual Control (LAC) conflict. Modi government’s Human Right Violations against Kashmiri were largely ignored by Trump administration especially during last 15 months. Now India is trying to re-vitalize its “comprehensive global strategic partnership” with new US Regime under Bidden.

In  the Indian Ocean domain, India’s whole hearted investment and efforts remained unsuccessful in the defeat of trump.India  seems worried about Biden: fearing democrat’s stance on Human Right Violations and US administration on Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IIOJ&K) could affect its relations with US.

Modi deliberately supported “Howdy Modi” and “Namaste Trump” to disappoint democrats.With new US regime under Biden, it would be difficult for Indian Media to establish its credibility because it remained significantly skeptical about politics of Democrats.

Pakistan-US convergence of interest in Afghanistan would become a serious concern for India.Indo-US relations under Biden regime are likely to be more unpredictable as compared to that of during Trump administration.Pakistan can get some foreign policy dividend from US on Afghan peace process / security paradigm of the region; in the past Biden had a very balanced approach on Afghan issue / security of South Asia.

Trump’s public displays of camaraderie with the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, have been a defining feature of US-India relations over the last four years. At the  “Howdy Modi”  rally, in Texas in September 2019, Trump hailed Modi as one of  “America’s greatest, most devoted and most loyal friends”, while the two leaders tightly grasped each other’s  hands. A similarly gushing rally was held for Trump when he visited India in February 2020. The Indian government appeared to have thrown caution to the wind when it hosted Trump in February this year, throwing him a massive public reception in Ahmedabad.

At the Modi’s Howdy Modi” event in Houston last year, the Indian leader embraced his American counterpart and appeared to endorse his-re-election campaign to the 50,000 strong crowd. Those factors working for Trump also include his ignoring India’s controversial internal issues like Kashmir. Modi stripped autonomy in the India-controlled part of Kashmir-while Biden has spoken out against human rights abuses there and urged New Delhi to curb restrictions on dissent. This has caused some defection of support in the Asian Indian population.

Some supporters of Hindu nationalism had been trying to gain American support for the Indian stance on several issues, including Kashmir and the Citizenship (Amendment) act. It also passed a controversial citizenship law that could strip millions of Muslims of Indian citizenship and also excludes Muslims of neighboring countries from gaining citizenship in India.India believed that Trump is good for India because Trump would not interfere on Kashmir, nor would he criticize India on CAA or other human rights violation.

However, Democrat-leaning Hindu group have also lobbied the Biden camp with “letters, comments, tweets” to soften his stance on Kashmir, with underlying message being that “if you turn anti-India, then Indian-Americans would turn against you. In addition, leaders of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) openly bickered Trump’s re-election bid and even supported his claims of voter fraud. This could backfire. If the Biden camp feels unhappy, it would not be misplaced.

Trump and Modi have been close since Trump assumedoffice in January 2017. They have met several times and Trump recently said he had “great support from India from Prime Minister Modi” when talking of his re-election bid. These ties had been necessary to ensure that US-India ties remained stable. The world found President Trump to be an unconventional leader and it required a special, personalized approach. Closeness to Trump “came in handy” for New Delhi. The strengthening of the Quad and the Malbar exercises,  coming amid India’s stand-off with China, happened because of that proximity’ referring to the grouping of the US, India, Japan and  Australia and their recent joint military exercise.

Another product of these close ties was softer approach towards contentious issues, especially around the Modi government’s handling of religious minorities. Meanwhile human rights concern in countries like India had been neglected by the Trump administration. Ashley Tellis, a former adviser in the US Department of State, in a recent dossier prepared by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said that Trump administration “did not care much” about human rights issues in countries like India. As a result, India’s moves might not have faced censure from the Trump administration.

However, while the proximity reaped dividends for New Delhi, it came at a cost, with the Modi government having constant run-ins with the Democratic Party, especially on human rights. On at least two occasions, Democratic lawmakers had tabled resolutions condemning a communications blockade and mass detentions in Indian occupied Jammu & Kashmir after New Delhi stripped the state of its constitutional autonomy. Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar, on a visit to the United Sates, refused to meet the leadership of a foreign relations panel of the US Senate and House of Representatives, protesting against the inclusion of Congresswoman Premila Jaypal who had tabled one of the resolutions.

Jaishankar’s  decision to cancel the meeting invited flak from senior Democrats including Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris (now the vice-President-elect) who stood by Jaypal and said it was “wrong for any foreign  government” to dictate the participation of members in meeting on Capital Hill. Wrongly for New Delhi there are signs such run-ins may increase under Biden. Biden, outlining the vision for his administration, has said he was ‘disappointed” by the Modi administration’s move to amend citizenship laws in the country, fast-tracking refugees status for non-Muslim refugees from neighboring countries something Biden said was  “inconsistent” with the country’s tradition of secularism. Biden has also criticized the Modi government’s handling of Kashmir saying that “restrictions on dissent, such as preventing peaceful protests or the shutting or slowing of the internet weaken democracy”.

Even so, experts said that while there might be difference between the Biden and Modi administrations, how they dealt with common concerns would matter more. New Delhi would be hoping for continuity in Washington’s policy towards both China and Pakistan. Biden has indicated he might not differ much from current policies on some issues, saying his administration would “work with India to support a rules-based and stable Indo-Pacific region in which no country, including China, is able to threaten neighbors with impunity.

Biden rise to power is unlikely to drastically change the issue-specific and transactional nature of the relations between the two nations, but it will present Pakistan with opportunities to strengthen its strategic and economic ties with the US especially as the planned US withdrawal from Afghanistan forces Washington to redefine its interests in the region.

For twenty years, the war in Afghanistan shaped US-Pakistan ties. At  a time when this dynamic is expected to change, Biden’s  presence in the White House can help the foreign policy establishment  in Islamabad  forge new partnerships with Washington based on the two nation’s  mutual geopolitical and economic interests. Unlike Trump, Biden knows Pakistan, He travelled to the country several times as vice president. He was one of the principal architects, along with Senator John Kerry of the Kerry-Lugar Berman Act of 2009 that paved the way for the US providing annual civilian assistance of $ 1.5bn to Pakistan between 2010 and 2014. But perhaps more importantly, contrary to Trump unpredictable, unilateralist, personal and at times erratic approach to foreign affairs, Biden believes in dealing with other nations through institutions. This means the relationship between the US and Pakistan will be more stable during his presidency.

Biden will undoubtedly keep supporting India against China in the region, but unlike Trump, he is also expected to take steps to restore the US’s role as a strategic balancer between Islamabad and New Delhi. Moreover, the new US president is expected to adopt a less aggressive approach towards Beijing than his predecessor in order to secure some cooperation on issues like ending the coronavirus pandemic, addressing climate change, and ensuring nuclear non-proliferation.

So far, Pakistan managed to remain neutral in the competition between the US and China in the Indo-Pacific region. As a result, it is well placed to provide a communication back-channel between Washington and Beijing if and when it is needed. This is a role Pakistan played successfully in the past. In the early 1970s, Islamabad facilitated Washington’s outreach to Beijing, which resulted in President Richard Nixon paying a historic official visit to the country in 1972.

Furthermore, Biden administration is expected to be more vocal in its criticism of India’s oppressive policies in Indian Occupied Kashmir. This will give Pakistan an opportunity to more efficiently highlight India’s human rights abuses and international law violations in the disputed territory on the international arena and move its Kashmir policy forward.

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