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Modi govt set to deal with incoming Biden administration

By Shishir Gupta

The White House will have a new occupant shortly. What does this mean for India? The Modi government’s connection with President elect Joe Biden goes back to the days when External Affairs S. Jaishankar was Indian Ambassador to US during the Obama administration and present Ambassador to US Taranjit Singh Sandhu was his deputy. The two have kept in touch with close advisors of President elect Biden ensuring that US maintains its bipartisan consensus towards India.

As far as Prime Minister Narendra Modi is concerned, he runs foreign policy on a personal touch with Indian interests as a top priority. He only gives up on a country or an institution after the latter shows duplicity in bilateral relations.

No marks for guessing the countries in that category.

While the Indian foreign policy will indeed have to recalibrate its approach towards the incoming Biden administration, New Delhi knows that president-elect is a collegial guy, who was more approachable to Republican adversaries as a vice president than the president during the Obama years. A quintessential politician who stayed more than half his life in Washington and knows the wrangling at Capitol Hill.

Unlike President Trump who hid his strategy behind a brash style, the incoming President will be more predictable in dealing with the world. He is expected to be tough yet not confrontational with China, will mend fences with Europe and be slightly rough with Russia.

Even though the Chinese experts are gloating over President Trump’s defeat, the US system now firmly believes that Beijing is not only an adversary but also a threat to the future. So one should not expect bombastic statements against the Communist Party of China during Biden-era but US policy on China has turned full circle and there should be a build-up on the Asia pivot that was promised but not delivered in the Obama administration. Trump, on his part, may be down but not out and will campaign for the Senate run-offs in Georgia to remain politically relevant in Republican party.

China’s all weather ally Pakistan also heaving a sigh of relief at the exit of President Trump but New Delhi believes that incoming administration will be tough on terrorism, particularly after the recent Islamist attacks in Europe by migrants.

The president-elect will continue with past policy of exiting Afghanistan but that won’t be easy as the US intelligence agencies and Pentagon (Trump dismissed their advice) have been reporting the escalation of Taliban violence with the backing of Haqqani network and Quetta based Shura with direct involvement of Pakistan deep state.

As president-elect is expected to work with expert advice on Afghanistan, then the role of British, who are tied up with Pakistan, may diminish in the near future. Islamabad’s double play in Afghanistan is now known to its former friends like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia with proof. Pakistan’s problem in fact may multiply with president-elect Biden having a very poor opinion about Islamabad’s newfound ally Turkey.

While New Delhi will wait till January 2021 for formal engagement with the new administration, it appears most confident in dealing with the new occupant of the White House.

(The article appeared in The Hindustan Times)

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