“Upcoming US Elections, Possible Outcomes & Prospects of Relations
October 13, 2020
The Centre for Strategic Perspectives (CSP), Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) organized a webinar titled “Upcoming US Elections, Possible Outcomes & Prospects of Relations with Pakistan” on October 13, 2020. The speakers at the webinar were, Dr. Daniel Markey, Senior Research Professor, John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Washington, D.C; Dr. Rifaat Hussain; Professor & Head of Department of Government and Public Policy in School of Social Sciences and Humanities at National University of Sciences and Technology, Islamabad; and Mr. Nadeem Zaman Director, Association of Pakistani Americans, Texas.
The webinar was moderated by Mr. Najam Rafique, Director CSP/Research at ISSI. Setting the context of the webinar, he said that with the over 200,000 deaths following the Covid-19 pandemic, millions filing for unemployment and the public outcry over the killing of George Floyd, the US is approaching its most consequential election in history in this unprecedented context. He further added that President Trump is running for his second term with a white supremacist agenda, while Joe Biden is pandering to moderate voters at the expense of the younger generations who are in favor of systemic change. He raised a question whether another Trump term would mark the end of US democracy?
Dr. Daniel Markey opened his talk by stating that the upcoming elections in the US present a choice between basic competence and incompetence. It is a choice between two candidates – Joe Biden who adheres to basic norms and rules, traditions and principles and President Donald Trump who rejects many of these. He was of the view that the upcoming election will have world shaping consequences both at home and abroad. The domestic agenda in the upcoming elections are more severe due to the Covid-19, the social unrest and economic crisis that the US is facing which is a direct result of poor leadership and the incompetence from the top. While discussing the foreign policy aspects, Dr. Markey was of the view that America’s global role and leadership was always overstated which created an atmosphere of expectation by other nations and which gave US the benefit of the doubt and advantage over other nations to get what it wants without asking for it. He stated that under Biden’s presidency competition with China will be the organizing principle of the American foreign policy. However, competition under the Biden administration won’t look the same as it looks under the Trump administration.
On US relations with Pakistan, Dr. Markey was of the opinion that as long as Pakistan does not completely side with China in this competition, it may find many opportunities for cooperation with US in areas of security and economics, as well as the resumption of the strategic dialogue. He further remarked that the relations with Pakistan also come in the background of Afghanistan and counter-terrorism. Afghanistan continues to drive US relations with Pakistan.
While talking about the US-India relations, Dr. Markey said that it will be at the top of Washington’s strategic agenda in South Asia. Nonetheless, addressing India under the Biden administration will be a trickier act as the Biden administration will look at Delhi as a strategic balance against China but at the same time, Biden administration will raise more concerns regarding the illiberal tendencies in India. And if the Modi government keep up with its current trajectory, the US may find it difficult to see India as a partner.
Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Director General ISSI moderated the comment session. In his opening remarks, Ambassador Chaudhry said predicting the result of US elections is tricky. He highlighted two constants in US foreign policy overtures that will remain the same with marginal difference. First, the US competition with China, that will remain regardless of who comes into power. Secondly, US relations with India that might witness a marginal difference if Biden comes into power over the human rights violations in Indian Occupied Kashmir. He said that the biggest change that is expected is the US approach towards globalization and its leadership role in world affairs if Biden presidency takes over.
In his comments on the subject, Dr. Rifaat Hussain was of the view that the upcoming US elections may turn out to be messy and unprecedented. Given the damage that the Trump administration has caused to the US economy, its international image, its commitment to multilateralism, US reputation as a responsible state and an international leader has suffered greatly due to the policies pursued by the Trump administration. The world is looking forward to a Biden administration. However, the main states in which Trump won the last elections have little to no preference to vote for the democratic candidate, and it will be naïve to write-off President Trump’s victory in the upcoming elections. He agreed with Ambassador Chaudhry that China will be the main concern for both the Democrats and the Republicans. On relations with Pakistan, Dr. Hussain said that there may not be a sea change in the US approach towards Pakistan, however the relations may not see the lows that it did during the early years of Trump administration – the approach will be more balanced and more traditional.
Mr. Nadeem Zaman in his remarks said that within Pakistan, there are conversations on the US exist from Afghanistan and what would be the nature of that exit; whether it’s going to be quick withdrawal or a complete withdrawal or a complete disengagement? He was of the view that the US has over $90 billion interest in the Central Asian region, hence it is important to see the Afghan issue from a regional and market access prism. Keeping that in mind, it is naïve to expect an immediate US disengagement and withdrawal from Afghanistan.
In his concluding remarks, Ambassador Khalid Mahmood, Chairman Board of Governors, ISSI stated that the presidential elections in the US are a matter of great concern and interest for the internationally community. What happens in the US has ramifications and implications for the world. He was of the view that to understand the implications of the policies one has to understand the thrust behind those policy choices. Trump has championed the ideology of ‘America First’ and unilateralism in his foreign policy approach. He remarked that the elements that impact Pakistan and US relations the most is US relations with China and India, Pakistan’s relations China with reference to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Afghanistan. He reiterated that US policy towards India will not see any significant change at the strategic level. Similarly, US approach to counter-terrorism and nuclear issues will remain unchanged. He was of the view that Pakistan-US relationship remains transactional and may not see any significant change under the Biden leadership.