With foreign minister Bilawal on his charm-offensive visiting US and China lately, there is some hope that Pakistan may be able to restore the delicate balancing act, which its diplomats have tried to preserve in the country’s relationships with Beijing and Washington DC. Thought it may take some time, it is apparent that US does not want to lose Pakistan for good (considering its regional interests). China also cannot afford its main ally Pakistan to be isolated from West or shut out from international financial system.
The foreign policy questions that mostly consumed policymakers here at home used to revolve around whether a Republican or a Democrat would become the next US President,or how to be on the right side of a new administration. Now it’s the other way around – analysts abroad are wondering how defiant the next government in Pakistan would be vis-à-vis the US (albeit it is DC that has most of the leverage). This is bad omen for efforts to leverage longstanding military ties to boost bilateral trade and investment flows.
The Shehbaz government is mired in confusion and indecision amidst lack of clarity on who really is calling the shots in Pakistan. As long as the new setup looks like a lame-duck administration, there is little likelihood that US President Joe Biden, who practically ignored calls to engage with Imran Khan for over a year, will find it beneficial to engage with the new PM. Bilalwal’s sojourn may have created some positive vibes, but it may take some time for Uncle Biden to pick up the phone and call our PM.
The fact that former PM Khan is still clinging to his foreign conspiracy theory (that the US ousted him from power) reduces the diplomatic space for both the new government and the Biden administration. If PTI returned to power after next elections, there will be even less space for next Khan government to engage with the same US administrationit alleges to have master-minded its dismissal. Meanwhile, the US itself is politically unstable, with fate of current President becoming less certain for a re-election in late 2024.
As per RealClearPolitics, a US-based poll aggregator, Biden’s approval rating stood at 41 percent as of May 22, down from 54 percent a year ago. Less than two-fifth of folks approve of his handling of economy, foreign policy and immigration. Over half the country has disapproved of his presidency for ninestraight months. His job ratings haven’t recovered since the botched Afghanistan withdrawal last August. Biden’sstrong response to Russian’s Ukraine invasion and rallying the NATO did not help much either.
As just a quarter of polled Americans feel their country is heading in the right direction, there may be consequences for Democrats in mid-term elections later this November. Party of a sitting US president has historically been a loser in mid-term elections. Therefore, Democrats fear losing their slim majorities in both Senate (potential loss in ‘red states’ such as Georgia and Arizona) and House of Representatives (potential lossof seats in ‘bluestates’ of California, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Jersey, among others).
Regardless of the mid-term election results, Uncle Biden will be in power for another two and a half years, and Pakistan’s government, whether it is led by Shehbaz or Khanor someone else after new elections, will need to find ways to engage with this same administration. Expecting US-Pak relationship to suddenly bounce back will be quite a stretch of imagination. Be that as it may, Pakistan’s current economic woes demand that positive trajectory in bilateral relations is preserved by cooperating on shared interests.