WASHINGTON: The US House of Representatives has dropped all references to Pakistan from a bill that sought to blame the country for enabling the Taliban to capture Kabul in August this year.

But this comes with a negative development too. Last week’s tragic death of a Sri Lankan factory manager in Sialkot seems to have increased concerns about the security situation in the country as the Americans become more secretive about official US visits to Pakistan.

The original text of the US National Defence Act for 2022 required the US secretaries of defence and state to certify before a relevant Congress committee that providing “covered support” to Pakistan was in the national security interest of the United States.

The amended version changed the text by striking off “Pakistan” and inserting “any country in the near abroad of Afghanistan”. Another reference in the original text sought to determine Pakistan’s role in Taliban’s surprising victory in Kabul. The amended text does not mention this reference either.

The act, however, retains a condition to probe the cause and effects of the US withdrawal. It suggests forming a commission to do so, with the authority to review the role played by Afghanistan’s immediate and distant neighbours.

Another indication of continued US interest in maintaining, at least, a working relationship with Pakistan came earlier this week when the Biden administration invited Islamabad to its first-ever democracy summit, held in Washington on Dec 9 and 10.

Commenting on the invitation, an influential Washington think-tank, Brookings Institution, cited two reasons for inviting Pakistan and not inviting Bangladesh, “which scores slightly higher” on the US democracy index.

“Since 2015, Pakistan’s score has improved slightly, while Bangladesh has worsened,” and another likely factor was the US “desire to balance India’s inclusion with a regional, if aspiring, democratic rival,” the report added. While India ranks in the middle tier of the index, its “scores on constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, and fundamental rights have significantly decreased” from 2020 to 2021, Brookings explained.

The negative impact on Pakistan’s image came from the lynching of Sri Lankan factory manager Priyantha Kumar on Dec 3.

Soon after the incident, a US Senate delegation visited Pakistan.

The delegation — which included Senators Angus King, Richard Burr, John Cornyn and Benjamin Sasse — met Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday and expressed the desire to maintain friendly relations with Pakistan.

But the news of their arrival, and meetings in Islamabad, was released after the delegation’s departure, apparently on US instructions.

The United States and other Western nations have had concerns about Pakistan since the 9/11 attacks in America. But Washington had slowly become less strict with the restrictions.

US officials had started talking about future visits to Pakistan at official briefings as well, although the schedules were never announced. But after the Sialkot tragedy, the Americans seem to have returned to their old practice of talking about a visit to Pakistan only after it’s over.

Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2021

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