Pakistan, India & Afghanistan: Biden’s South Asia Policy

On 19 January, General (retired) Lloyd Austin, president-elect Joe Biden’s pick to become the United States (US) Secretary of Defence, spoke at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing and emphasised that he will put pressure on Pakistan to prevent it from allowing its territory to be used as a sanctuary for militants and violent extremist organisations.

Pakistan

On a separate note, however, the defence secretary nominee has shown a keen desire to enhance the US-India strategic partnership and bolster the overall arrangement of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad). These statements illustrate how a Biden administration may recalibrate the US’ South Asia policy and preserve India’s role as a status quo regional leader.

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The Pakistan Dilemma

Throughout history, Pakistan has been an important element in the US foreign policy in Afghanistan particularly in relation to the peace process. However, time and time again, Pakistan has demonstrated its lack of effectiveness in brokering the peace in the country. Instead, Pakistan’s ISI continues to wreak havoc and deteriorate the situation by targeting innocent people to significantly fracture the rule of law. This is its way of showcasing to the government of Afghanistan that groups such as the Taliban and the Haqqani Network (which it controls parts of) will eventually dominate. The relatively ‘unruled areas‘ along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, have allowed Pakistan to set-up terror training camps and bases, with the active support and cooperation from the Taliban and Haqqani Network. Moreover, Pakistan-based terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) are also involved in the fighting and instability of Afghanistan. As a result, Pakistan’s malign intentions and involvement in the affairs of Afghanistan have ironically caused more harm than good. Despite this, the US has continued to accommodate Pakistan role in the region.

However, in 2018, a significant policy shift occurred when the Trump Administration cancelled USD 300 million worth of aid to Pakistan due to the latter’s inability to improve its terror record. Moreover, in 2020, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) retained Pakistan in the grey list for its insufficient progress in addressing terror financing. Recently, the defence secretary nominee highlighted Pakistan’s inadequacy in alleviating issues of terror in the South Asian region. He added that, “Many factors in addition to the security assistance suspension may impact Pakistan’s cooperation, including Afghanistan negotiations and the dangerous escalation following the Pulwama terrorist attack.”

The statements made by Austin show that the US will be taking a tougher position on Pakistan and will not allow it to free ride on Washington’s history of accommodation. This will also put pressure on China towards its “all weather” support for Pakistan in international fora. However, in order to effectively address Pakistan’s terror activities, the US must remain committed towards Afghanistan’s stability and look for alternative like-minded partners to secure the order of not only the country but the region as well.

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India’s Role

Among the like-minded partners of the US, India holds an incredibly special place. India-US relations continue to hold bipartisan support. During the hearing, Austin also said that if he is confirmed for the position, he will maximise all efforts to continue elevating the defence partnership with India and endeavour to “further operationalise India’s ‘Major Defense Partner’ status”. This continuity in the US’ India Policy paints a positive picture for the rising Asian power. Moreover, by leveraging its relations with the US, India will be in a better position to maintain stability in South Asia at a time when the Pakistan-China nexus continues to deepen. In line with this, a Biden administration has also been seen to have the potential of pursuing a more robust position against an “assertive and aggressive” China.

If materialised, this orientation will be in India’s favour especially in securing its position as a regional leader in South Asia. It would be expected, however, that India will have to play a bigger role in stabilising the situation Afghanistan. This involves not only securing its assets in the country, but also maintaining the rule of law which Pakistan aims to provoke. This will not be an easy task considering India has shown reluctance in involving itself in the affairs of Afghanistan in the past; however, if it seeks to play a bigger role in maintaining the status-quo order in South Asia, India will have to make decisions that do not necessarily reflect its previous orientations.

Coronavirus Outbreak: More than 3.32 lakh confirmed

The coronavirus cases in India continue to spread rapidly as the country has marked significant and consecutive highest jumps in the COVID-19 tally over a major part of the past two weeks. With over 11,000 new cases reported in the last 24 hours, India’s COVID-19 count on Sunday crossed the 3.32 lakh-mark, while the death toll has crossed the 9,500-mark as well.

Coronavirus

At 9:30 AM on this day, the COVID-19 tally in the country has reached 3,32,424 cases, which includes 1,53,106 active cases; 1,69,798 cured, discharged, or migrated patients, and 9,520 deaths.

According to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, as many as 11,502 new COVID-19 cases and 311 deaths were reported in the country in the last 24 hours, marking a significant spike. Yesterday, India had witnessed the highest yet single-day spike in the COVID-19 tally with an increase of 11,929 cases.

Maharashtra continues to be the epicenter of the coronavirus spread where the number of cases has witnessed an even large spike recently. According to the Health Ministry, Maharashtra has the highest number of cases with 1,07,958 positive cases of COVID-19 infection and 3,950 deaths. As many as 3,390 new COVID-19 cases were reported from the state in the past 24 hours.

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Notably, Mumbai, the financial capital of the country, has become the hotbed of the coronavirus spread in the state where the number of cases has crossed the 58,000-mark and the death toll has topped the 2,100-mark as well. At 9:30 AM on this day, the COVID-19 tally in Mumbai showed 58,226 cases and 2,182 deaths.

One of the real challenges in Mumbai is controlling the disease contamination in Asia’s biggest slum — Dharavi, which is an extremely densely-populated region.

Maharashtra is followed by Tamil Nadu with 44,661 cases, which overtook Delhi due to a recent massive spike in the number of cases. The national capital is third on the list with 41,182 cases.

After Delhi comes Gujarat, where the COVID-19 figure stands at 23,590 cases with 16,333 patients recovered and 1,478 fatalities. Rajasthan has reported 12,694 cases of which 9,566 have recovered and 292 patients are dead.

Uttar Pradesh has reported 13,615 positive cases so far of which 8,268 patients have recovered and 399 patients have lost their lives due to the virus. In Rajasthan, as many as 12,772 people have confirmed COVID-19, of which 9,631 recovered and 294 people succumbed to it.

In Kerala, which reported the country’s first COVID-19 case, 2462 people have been detected positive for coronavirus so far.

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In the month of June, the spread of infection has been extremely rapid. This can be gauged from the fact that there were 1,90,535 cases of coronavirus in the country on June 1 but 13 days later, the figure has already crossed three lakh. Which is to say that, broadly, there have been around 1.25 lakh new cases of infection within just 13 days. Not only that, in these past few days, the death toll has also risen sharply as more than 3,000 people have died from June 1 to June 13. Not only are the figures shocking but also bode uneasy news for the future. It shows that people are not seriously following social distancing norms and that the coronavirus infection rate has been skyrocketing.

If this continues on a similar track, experts estimate that the country’s COVID-19 tally may even surpass 10 lakh by the end of June.

The global number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus infection has surpassed 7.6 million, with over 427,000 fatalities being reported since the start of the outbreak, according to the latest data provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Sunday.

The majority of cases and deaths, however, are still concentrated in the Americas. The United States remains the worst-hit country having the highest single count of cases, over 2 million.