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Insights into Editorial: Biden, India and comfort in the old normal

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Context:

With U.S. Democratic candidate and former Vice-President Joe Biden seizing the lead in the presidential elections that puts him at the cusp of victory, the attention in India turns to what kind of foreign policy changes he will bring to India-U.S. relations.

In his victory speech, he emphasised on a message of unity and said the time has now come to “heal and restore the soul of America.”

I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide but to unify. For all those of you who voted for President Trump, I understand the disappointment tonight. Now let’s give each other a chance.

It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature, see each other again, listen to each other again. Let this grim era of demonization in America begin to end — here and now.

Kamala Harris as vice president was long overdue, says Biden:

US President-elect Joe Biden has said that he would be honoured to be serving with Kamala Harris, who scripted history by becoming the first woman and first daughter of immigrants ever elected to national office in this country.

“I will be honoured to be serving with a fantastic vice president Kamala Harris — who will make history as the first woman, first Black woman, first woman of South Asian descent, and first daughter of immigrants ever elected to national office in this country,” Biden said in his victory speech in Wilmington.

Joseph Biden policies towards Iran, Afghanistan, Taliban and Pakisatan:

  1. A bit of history may hold some clues. In September 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama had tasked his Vice-President, Joseph Biden, with building an alternative plan to Afghanistan, to present to U.S. Generals who were pushing for the “surge” or an influx of up to 400,000 troops to win the war in Afghanistan.
  2. Biden fought long and hard, building on multiple visits to the region, and suggested that the U.S. did not need more troops; instead it needed to pull out, and focus on a five-point agenda for what he called “Counter-terrorism Plus”.
  3. On Pakistan, a country that gave him one of its highest civilian honours, the Hilal-e-Pakistan, Mr. Biden favoured a policy of engagement in order to deal with the Taliban.
  4. Eventually, Mr. Obama did not go with the Biden plan, and ended up with following the military’s plan for a surge of about 33,000 extra troops instead.
  5. A decade later, it was President Donald Trump who picked up ideas similar to the Biden plan, when he ordered a large-scale pullout of U.S. troops, limited U.S. presence at bases and its mission in Afghanistan, while appointing Zalmay Khalilzad to build a reconciliation process with the Taliban.
  6. While the relative merits of the different American strategies on Afghanistan will be judged in the future, what this shows is that the specific policies of Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump in the international arena may not differ as much as their political styles and their ideologies do.

 Iran hopes for a change in ‘destructive US policies’ after Biden win:

Iran’s first vice president said he hoped for a change in “destructive US policies” after Democrat Joe Biden captured the U.S. presidency, adding that the era of Donald Trump and his “adventurous and belligerent” administration was over.

Relations between Iran and the United States have taken a turn for the worse since 2018, when Trump pulled out of Tehran’s nuclear deal with six powers and reimposed crippling sanctions.

What has Biden’s approach been towards terrorism?

Obama and Biden also strengthened cooperation with India to fight terrorism in each of their countries and across the region.

“Biden believes there can be no tolerance for terrorism in South Asia – cross-border or otherwise”, his campaign document says.

While there is not much he said during his time in the administration on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, Indian government hopes that he will be carrying forward the legacy of the US administration’s approach towards India-Pakistan when it comes to cross-border terrorism.

Has Joe Biden been a friend of India?

Much before he became Vice President in the Barack Obama administration, Biden had advocated a stronger relationship with India.

Biden played an important role, both as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and later as Vice President, in systematically deepening strategic engagement with India.

In fact, in 2006, three years before he became the Vice-President of the US, Biden announced his vision for the future of US-India relations: “My dream is that in 2020, the two closest nations in the world will be India and the United States,” he had said.

Although (then) Senator Obama was initially hesitant to support the Indo-US nuclear deal, Biden led the charge and worked with both Democrats and Republicans, to approve the nuclear deal in the US Congress in 2008.

With India: Friction areas that need prompt measures:

Where there is likely to be some friction with the Indian government, especially given India’s pending review by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, is where the Democratic Party leadership have been particularly vocal:

  • Jammu-Kashmir, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, communal and caste-based violence, actions against non-governmental organisations and media freedoms.

These are areas Mr. Trump ignored for most part, but are areas where Mr. Biden once said the U.S. “admired” India the most.

In a speech in 2013 during a visit to Mumbai, Mr. Biden had said: “We admire the way you’ve melded ethnicities, faiths and tongues into a single, proud nation;

The way entrepreneurship seems almost hard-wired into Indian society, from rickshaw-wallas to web programmers; and maybe most of all, we admire your democracy and the message that your democracy sends to people everywhere in the world.”

Overall, will Biden be a good President for India?

Over the last 20 years, every US President — Bill Clinton, George W Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump — had differences on many issues, but if there was one common theme on which all of them agreed was this: a stronger relationship with India.

What that means is that there has been a tradition of bipartisan support in favour of better ties with India, and every US President has made it better than what he inherited from his predecessor over the last two decades.

So, to cut a long story short, there is no reason to believe that Biden will not continue the tradition but of course, he will have his own style and nuances, and will put his personal stamp on the relationship.

Conclusion: Multilateral world order and International outlook:

Above all, Mr. Biden’s foreign policy will be watched for just how much he reverses Mr. Trump’s pull-out from the multilateral world order, including the World Health Organisation, UNESCO, Human Rights Council, agreements such as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris Climate Accord and traditional trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific alliances.

Mr. Biden’s foreign policy will also be watched for what concrete measures he takes in order to strengthen the rules-based international order, and to ensure the countries that flout it the most, including China, Russia, and even the United States are held to account.

The success of the government’s dealings with Mr. Biden’s administration now depends on how much of the “old normal” the Indian government is able to revert to and find comfort over the next few months.