WASHINGTON: National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf has said that Pakistan has other options if US President Joe Biden continues to ignore the country’s leadership.
“The president of the United States hasn’t spoken to the prime minister of such an important country who the US itself says is make-or-break in some cases, in some ways, in Afghanistan — we struggle to understand the signal, right?” Mr Yusuf told The Financial Times in an interview.
“We’ve been told every time that… [the phone call] will happen, it’s technical reasons or whatever. But frankly, people don’t believe it,” he said. “If a phone call is a concession, if a security relationship is a concession, Pakistan has options,” he added, refusing to elaborate.
Objects to President Biden’s failure to call Prime Minister Khan
The US State Department, however, has assured Islamabad that Washington recognises Pakistan’s vital role in restoring peace in Afghanistan and wants the country to play that role. “Pakistan has much to gain and will continue to have a critical role, be well-positioned to have a role in supporting the outcome” in Afghanistan, said US State Department’s spokesman Ned Price.
Briefing journalists in Washington on Monday, Mr Price said that “not only the United States seeks, but that many of our international partners, many of the countries in the region also seek” this supporting role from Pakistan. “So, we’ll continue to work and to communicate closely with our Pakistani partners on this,” he added.
But The Financial Times reported on Tuesday that in an interview to its correspondent in Washington, Mr Yusuf complained about President Biden’s failure to contact Prime Minister Imran Khan as Washington sought help to stop the Taliban taking over. “The cold shoulder from Washington comes as the Taliban has captured swaths of territory across Afghanistan in a ruthless offensive emboldened by the US pullout,” the report added.
The newspaper noted that while Mr Yusuf did not elaborate on his options, “Pakistan has cultivated deep ties with its ‘iron brother’ China, which has invested billions in infrastructure projects as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.”
A Biden administration official told FT: “There are still a number of world leaders President Biden has not been able to speak with personally yet. He looks forward to speaking with Prime Minister Khan when the time is right.”
The report pointed out that the diplomatic affront was the latest setback in US-Pakistan relations after their cooperation during the war on terrorism following the 9/11 attack on the twin towers by Al Qaeda.
Under the Trump administration, the US severed $2 billion in security assistance to Pakistan after Donald Trump accused his ally of “nothing but lies & deceit”. After Trump made a deal with the Taliban that relied on help from Pakistan, however, he invited Mr Khan to the White House.
A person familiar with last week’s discussions between Mr Yusuf and his American counterpart Jake Sullivan told FT: “The conversation about Afghanistan had been tough but that securing a political settlement … could help improve the US-Pakistan relationship dramatically.”
Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2021