WASHINGTON: The United States says it hopes for a smooth transfer of power in Pakistan after the Supreme Court verdict that disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

“This is an internal matter. We look forward to a smooth transition as Pakistan’s parliament selects the next prime minister,” said a State Department spokesperson when asked to comment on the verdict, on Friday.

The comment followed an announcement that the State Department is sending its acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells on “an introductory trip” to India and Pakistan this week.

And the visit is not the only important foreign policy matter that the government in Islamabad has to deal with this week, despite the political turmoil that it finds itself enmeshed in. Even more important is the immediate need to send a high-powered team to Washington for crucial water talks with India at the World Bank headquarters.

The State Department’s careful reaction to the verdict comes at a time when the Trump administration is busy finalising a new strategy for South Asia and senior US officials have said that Pakistan will have a key role in the new policy.

Since a team of senior security and foreign policy advisers are busy finalising a master plan, both the State Department and Pentagon avoid making any binding statement on developments in South Asia.

On Thursday, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said at a news briefing that President Donald Trump was “still in consultations” with the National Security Council, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defence James Mattis on a new strategy for South Asia and until the final decisions were made, she was “not going to go ahead” and comment on developments in that region.

Diplomatic observers in Washington say since the administration is also sending a senior envoy to Islamabad, it will wait for her to return before offering more comments on the situation in Pakistan.

Ambassador Wells, who is also the acting US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, leaves Washington on Friday for a weeklong – July 30-Aug 8 – visit to South Asia that brings her to both New Delhi and Islamabad.

“She will meet government officials, thought leaders, and business executives to discuss US relations with the region,” said a State Department statement announcing her visit.

Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2017

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