The jury may be still out on what Mr Biden’s assessment of Pakistan signifies
US President Joe Biden has set the cat among the pigeons with his conversational comments — “What I think is (maybe) Pakistan being one of the most dangerous nations in the world”, “one that has nuclear weapons without any cohesion”. As he expounded on the lack of absolute clarity about the command and control of Pakistan’s several nuclear capable ballistic missiles, Mr Biden may have given vent to his thinking on contemporary geopolitics involving China, Russia and Pakistan, and by extension India.
The jury may be still out on what Mr Biden’s assessment of Pakistan signifies. What has spilled out from a possible moment of lucidity in the US President’s thoughts on the world situation is that US-Pakistan ties have not gone far beyond the outright contempt Mr Biden had for the former Prime Minister Imran Khan and the extremely frosty relationship that flowed from it. Adding to the intrigue after such a scathing assessment is that not even a month has gone by since the United States struck a $450 million defence deal with Pakistan on maintenance of its powerful F-16 fleet.
Mr Biden has been known for expansive departures from stated US foreign policy, as he did regarding Ukraine in the days before war broke out there and in commenting on Chinese adventurism vis-à-vis Taiwan. The state department had stepped in each time to clarify the official position in those matters. Even so, when it comes to the US President speaking up on issues the world will have to stay tuned in.
Pakistan’s protestations and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s explanation on it being “a responsible state with the best safeguards as per IAEA requirements” cannot be cynically swept aside either. But its current state of fragility — as it reels from an economic crash, suffers waves of social unrest amid the polarisation caused by the Imran Khan government’s exit in a trust vote, deals with its oppressed minorities and marshals the Islamist militancy it has helped sustain on its border and LoC with India — lends itself easily to suspicions of the kind aired by Mr Biden.
In the national security strategy document that the United States released last week, and which focused on threats posed by China and Russia, there is no mention of Pakistan, which lends credence to the belief that Mr Biden was once again expressing his opinion on the fraught world situation. Coming just when Pakistan’s army general and foreign minister were visiting Washington and attempting to reset ties after the fall of the last government, the comments are certain to send ties on a downward spiral again despite the F-16 defence deal.
The US-Pakistan equation that had changed dramatically in the new millennium after the cold ties of the 1990s had nosedived after the assassination of the 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden in a safe house in Abbottabad in 2011. They tumbled even more after last year’s US withdrawal from Afghanistan though Pakistan openly toasted that departure as it emboldened TTP, the Pakistani Taliban, that the nation, known to use sponsored terror as State policy, openly supported.
India cannot afford to read too much in the shocking turn of events, apart from experiencing traces of schadenfreude in mulling the possible fallout between Washington and Islamabad. With its presence in the strategic Quad alignment, India has reason to believe its long-term pursuit of its permanent interests is in a settled state now, regardless of where US-Pakistan relations go from here.