ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and the United States have set the stage for a fresh impetus of their bilateral ties with pledges of greater engagement and economic cooperation.
The icebreaker between Islamabad and Washington took place on Sunday in Geneva where national security advisers Jake Sullivan of the US and Moeed Yusuf of Pakistan met and, according to a statement jointly issued by them, “agreed to advance practical cooperation”.
This was the first highest-level physical contact between the two countries since the Biden administration took office.
First high-level contact between two countries since Biden administration took office
Secretary of State Antony Blinken had earlier twice spoken to his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa. Similarly, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin had been in touch with Gen Bajwa.
However, there has so far been no communication between President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Imran Khan. Moreover, Pakistan was not among the initial invitees to the climate summit. Pakistan, meanwhile, kept emphasising the need for expanded bilateral ties and cooperation.
This gave an impression of a lack of warmth in ties between the two governments.
Bilateral relations, according to a diplomatic source, were a major point on the agenda of the NSAs’ Geneva meeting, but other issues like India, Afghanistan and economic cooperation which keep affecting the ties too were discussed at length.
Moeed Yusuf complained about lesser engagement with Pakistan by the new administration in its early days. His American counterpart claimed that it happened so because of the Covid-19 pandemic and a greater focus on internal issues. He promised more and sustained engagement.
The discussion was described by both sides as “positive”.
Moeed Yusuf said in a tweet: “Pleased to meet US NSA@JakeSullivan46, yesterday. Pakistan and US delegations held positive discussions on bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest. Both sides agreed to continue the conversation to advance cooperation in Pak-US bilateral relations.”
According to an insider, more exchanges between the two sides are expected in near future.
The US is, meanwhile, likely to extend economic cooperation and encourage investments in Pakistan. Similarly, increased cooperation for dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change is being expected by Islamabad.
However, it is apparent from the meeting that the US desire for re-engagement is driven by its expediencies relating to the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan.
Washington wants the withdrawal to be completed in an orderly manner and at the same time hopes that Afghan warring groups would reach a political settlement before the completion of the withdrawal of troops. It, therefore, wants Pakistan to influence Taliban to agree to reduction in violence and taking the stalled Doha talks forward.
The meeting coincided with disclosure by the Pentagon that Pakistan had allowed the US military to use its airspace and given ground access for supporting its presence in Afghanistan.
David F. Helvey, Assistant Secretary of Defence for Indo-Pacific Affairs, told the US Senate Armed Services Committee last week that the United States would continue its conversation with Pakistan because it had a critical role in restoring peace in Afghanistan.
Pakistan side conveyed its concerns about post-withdrawal Afghanistan, role of ‘spoilers’ and management of looming instability.
For Islamabad, the nature of America’s role in Afghanistan after military withdrawal remains a crucial factor in shaping own Afghan strategy.
Meanwhile, Pakistani policy-makers seek a broad-based relationship with US after the completion of withdrawal.
After nearly two decades, Islamabad-Washington ties are undergoing a structural transformation as Pakistan has attempted multiple times to broaden the ambit of bilateral relationship in recent months.
China factor is emerging as a new stumbling block in Pakistan-US relationship. Islamabad has communicated to Washington that it seeks balanced and cooperative relations with both China and the US as its focus is on national economic development.
Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2021