WASHINGTON: Pakistan conveyed to the United States on Wednesday that it would like to engage with Washington on the issue of democracy “at an opportune time in the future”, indicating that it may not attend President Joe Biden’s Democracy Summit.

More than 100 nations, including Pakistan, have been invited to the two-day virtual summit, which begins on Thursday (today). Pakistan is still on the list but the official schedule of speakers does not mention Pakistan.

The only speaker from Pakistan is human rights activist Hina Jilani who will address a panel on elections and rule of law.

“We value our partnership with the US which we wish to expand both bilaterally as well as in terms of regional and international cooperation,” said a statement issued by the Pakistan Foreign Office.

“We remain in contact with the US on a range of issues and believe that we can engage on this subject at an opportune time in the future.”

Islamabad skips Democracy Summit as Russia, China not invited

The US invitation had put Pakistan in a difficult spot. Washington invited Taiwan, instead of Beijing, to represent China at the summit. Russia, another major world power, was also kept out. China is Pakistan’s closest ally while Islamabad is trying to improve its ties with Moscow as well.

Policymakers in Islamabad are worried that not attending the summit would give India a free hand, which already has a strong influence in the US. But a strong Chinese reaction to the US decision to invite Taiwan made it obvious that attending the summit could seriously damage Islamabad’s relations with Beijing, a risk Pakistan could not take.

In a recent statement, China’s Foreign Ministry said it was “firmly opposed” to the invitation.

“US actions only go to show democracy is just a cover and a tool to advance its geopolitical objectives, oppress other countries, divide the world and serve its own interests,” Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.

The Pakistani statement, however, tries to placate Washington, thanking it for the invitation and reminded US policymakers that “Pakistan is a large functional democracy” with an independent judiciary, vibrant civil society, and a free media. “We remain deeply committed to further deepening democracy, fighting corruption, and protecting and promoting human rights of all citizens,” it added.

The statement assured Washington “Pakistan will continue to support all efforts aimed towards strengthening dialogue, constructive engagement, and international cooperation for the advancement of our shared goals.”

At a Tuesday afternoon news briefing, US Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Human Rights Uzra Zeya said the Biden administration had invited Pakistan and some other states to the summit to reach out “to a regionally diverse” set of democracies.

“Our goal was to be as inclusive as possible within logistical constraints and also to ensure that all relevant views and viewpoints could be represented,” she claimed.

Earlier this week, a US think-tank, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said in a report that the invitation was “presumably for strategic reasons” as the US relied on Pakistan for counterterrorism cooperation in the region.

“If the Biden administration is serious about democratic revival in South Asia, it should confront India on its deteriorating democratic character and poor human rights record, especially in Kashmir,” the report added.

The report suggested keeping Pakistan on the democracy list while encouraging it to “restore genuine democracy through a free and fair election or risk being shunned by the United States and its democratic allies.”

It noted that the summit aimed at building a “coalition of Indo-Pacific democracies to counter China” made it difficult for Pakistan to attend.

Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2021

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