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Mihir Sharma

Biden’s Democracy Summit Is a South Asian Diplomatic Flub

The U.S. may have caused major damage to its policy in the region by excluding some countries that are being courted by China.

Modi and Biden in the White House in September.

Modi and Biden in the White House in September.

Photographer: Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

Supposedly, U.S. President Joe Biden’s “Summit for Democracy” — which begins Dec. 9 — would show America was back as leader of the free world. Unfortunately, the Biden administration isn’t big on either thoughtfulness before the fact, or justification after. And in many parts of the world, including here in South Asia, the summit is likely to do more harm than good. India, the world’s largest democracy – albeit one not quite as robust these days as once it was – will naturally be there. But Sri Lanka, which has comparable democratic credentials, is not. 

Most puzzling, perhaps, is the choice to exclude Bangladesh while inviting Pakistan. Neither is a particularly shining example of democracy at the moment. Bangladesh’s last election took place after the principal opposition leader had been jailed for corruption, and was described as “improbably lopsided” by the State Department. Pakistan’s last election, meanwhile, took place after its principal opposition leader had first been disqualified and then, for good measure, sentenced to jail. The election itself was, the State Department noted, marred by “pre-election interference by military and intelligence agencies that created an uneven electoral playing field.”