Special: Will Biden-Harris be good for India and Pakistan?
Trump had managed to maintain good relations with both countries.
Few US Presidential elections have evoked so much interest and heated debate as the one just concluded between the incumbent, Donald Trump, and the challenger, Joe Biden. Along with many Indians and Pakistanis, and, surely, millions others around the world, I was glued to the TV set for three days, sometimes late into the night, to watch one of the most closely contested and polarising presidential elections in recent times. The huge interest was not just because the US is a super power (though China is fast catching up) whose actions affect virtually every country, but also due to the colourful personality of Trump. You may not like the man, but you can’t ignore him, nor what he stands for.
The only other US election which came close to generating so much interest was in 2008 when Barack Obama won over John McCain (Biden was Obama’s running mate). That was mainly because Obama was the first man of colour to stand — and win — a US Presidential contest. McCain was graceful and generous in defeat, while Trump has been mean and petty-minded, refusing to accept defeat, and even has plans to challenge the verdict in the courts. Yet, the fact is that over 70 million Americans voted for him, more than the last time round, testifying to his continuing appeal to a great many of his fellow countrymen and women. Though he was caught lying repeatedly during his four years in office and also refused to divulge details of his income tax returns, his directness and bombast made him a populist figure. Biden, on the other hand, came across as somewhat colourless, though more trustworthy.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is certainly going to miss Trump. Both men hit it of well and seemed to bond with each other. There was considerable warmth each time they met, Modi giving him the Indian-style hug characteristic of him. In Houston, Texas, Trump took part in a humungous reception for Modi by his Indian-origin supporters in the largest football stadium of the city. The spectacle was repeated at the beginning of this year in Ahmedabad, capital of Modi’s home state of Gujarat, when Trump and his wife visited India. Clearly, Modi was expecting Trump to win another term as president, and Trump was hoping he would harvest most of the 1.9 million Indian-origin voters in the US.
It is ironic that ultimately most of those voters cast their ballots for Biden, instead. That could partly be because Trump publicly described India as “filthy”, just before the election. This was a reference to the heavily polluted air in many Indian cities, including Delhi, which has the dubious distinction of being the most polluted capital in the world. But it was seen as referring to the country as a whole. While it is true that India has extremely poor public sanitation and the standards of hygiene leave much to be desired, Indians don’t like this to be pointed out by outsiders, particularly by the president of the US.
However, the main question most Indians and Pakistanis are asking is, how good will a Biden Presidency be for their respective countries?
Trump had managed to maintain good relations with both Islamabad and New Delhi. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was able to persuade Trump that he was doing his best to clamp down on Pakistani terrorists centres. Besides, both men, with their macho appeal were somewhat similar in nature: blunt and populist, which went down well with their people. Trump also had a notable foreign policy success. He managed to engineer peace pacts between Israel and some Islamic countries, including the UAE. Turning to Biden, as he has in the past been quite outspoken on human rights, it is highly doubtful if he will be so benevolent towards Islamabad. With New Delhi, too, both Biden and Harris have earlier been critical over the Kashmir issue, especially the change the government recently made over the status of that state.
But China is the elephant in the room. A face-off between Indian and Chinese troops in the Himalayas has brought Sino-Indian ties to their lowest ebb since a brief war between the two countries in 1962. As a result, New Delhi has halted the import of certain Chinese goods and of services related to IT. Will Biden follow in the footsteps of Trump as far as China is concerned? Or will he move in a more nuanced fashion? He has already indicated that he will reverse what Trump did and bring Washington back into the folds of the World Health Organisation, and also take the pandemic much more seriously than did his predecessor. Biden’s main challenge, however, is within his own country. That is to remove the vestiges of the odious “Trumpism” and restore the US to the decent, freedom-loving, inclusive and welcoming nation it has been for most of its existence.
The writer is a former editor of Khaleej Times
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