WASHINGTON / ISLAMABAD: The United States said on Friday it had informed Pakistan the war in Ukraine could have both regional and global consequences, even as the Foreign Office objected to the issuance of a press release by a group of 23 envoys earlier this week, saying the move was undiplomatic.

“We have briefed the government of Pakistan on the impact that Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine could have on regional and global security,” a US State Department spokesperson told Dawn when asked to respond to these developments.

However, Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Munir Akram says that Islamabad is not only aware of the consequences of its actions, but also “supports all efforts” to restore peace in Ukraine.

In his words, to interpret Pakistan’s position on this issue as an expression of support for Russia “would be a perverse interpretation, especially once seen together with our statement in the UNGA.”

FO objects to envoys’ letter issued earlier this week urging Islamabad to denounce Moscow’s actions

“We are advocating a ceasefire and negotiations. If we had joined the Ukraine resolution, we would have no political space for diplomacy with the two sides,” he said.

Earlier this week, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) passed a non-binding resolution, demanding the immediate withdrawal of all Russian troops from Ukraine. Out of five South Asian nations, only Nepal voted for the resolution while Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka decided to abstain.

Pakistan sees China as its closest ally and, apparently, China’s strong pro-Russian stance on this issue also influenced Pakistan’s stance on the Ukrainian conflict. Bangladesh is also building a close relationship with China.

As for India, the country apparently did not want to choose between an old ally, Russia, and a new strategic partner, the United States, and that’s why it decided not to vote.

The US spokesperson, however, insisted that all 35 nations who abstained should also have taken a strong stance on this issue.

“The United States believes countries must speak out clearly against President Putin’s flagrant aggression, and to stand with the people of Ukraine,” he said.

Asked if the United States had discussed the abstentions with India and Pakistan, the spokesperson said: “The United States continues to engage with our partners around the world to discuss the importance of a strong collective response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

As the statement indicates, the United States has been extremely careful in responding to South Asia’s approach to the Ukrainian conflict. While Pakistan used to be a US partner during the Cold War and the fight against terrorism, India is now a key member in a US-led alliance to counter China’s increasing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

In an interview with the semi-official Voice of America broadcasting service, Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Munir Akram explained Pakistan’s new approach to staying neutral.

Explaining Pakistan’s abstention at the UNGA emergency session on Ukraine, Ambassador Akram pointed out that while the resolution addressed some concerns, it missed other key points.

“Russia is concerned about Nato’s expansion (to its borders), and those concerns are not even mentioned in the resolution,” he said, referring to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation military alliance of 28 European and two North American countries.

“So it was, in a way, one-sided. We want a balanced approach, and we believe that this dispute should be settled through negotiations.”

Asked if Pakistan condemned civilian deaths in Ukraine, he said civilian deaths, whether in Ukraine, Kashmir or Afghanistan, should always be condemned.

But he also pointed out that “there’s a lot of propaganda and fake news” on this issue. “It’s difficult to verify facts. Difficult to say who to trust. But if civilians are really getting killed, obviously we condemn such acts.”

He noted that the United States, China and several other countries were engaged in peace efforts and Pakistan too would like to contribute to this process. “All these countries need to work together to end the war,” he said.

FO objects to envoys’ letter

Meanwhile, the Foreign Office has objected to the issuance of a press release by the heads of various foreign missions in Pakistan, including Germany and France, urging the Pakistan government to denounce Russian action against Ukraine as undiplomatic.

“We took note of that and in a subsequent meeting with a group of ambassadors, we expressed our concern about that because, as I said, that is not the way diplomacy should be practised, and I think they have realised it,” FO Spokesman Asim Iftikhar said at the weekly media briefing on Friday.

On Tuesday, the envoys issued a rare joint statement asking Islamabad to condemn Russia’s attack on Ukraine. The statement was made at a time when UNGA’s emergency session was in progress.

It was evident from the timing and the phrasing of the statement that it had been issued to influence Pakistani position during the UNGA debate. The government, however, stuck to its stance and Pakistan abstained.

Mr Iftikhar emphasised that diplomats are expected to observe diplomatic norms and protocols. “It is not usual diplomatic practice to say such things through media, and we have made that clear,” he said.

However, he acknowledged that engagement with European countries on the Russia-Ukraine war was continuing.

“There have been various engagements at different levels with various ambassadors here at the Foreign Office, at the level of the Foreign Secretary, additional secretaries, director generals and others. The foreign secretary is meeting some ambassadors today as well,” he said, adding that it was the right way to undertake diplomatic activities.

The Foreign Office, he said, was engaging with foreign envoys “very proactively” and holding meetings on short notices despite the preparation for the upcoming Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers.

“We have engaged and continue to engage on this issue. The [envoys’] press release was not the right way and it has been conveyed to them,” he maintained.

He further recalled that Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was also engaging with his European counterparts. On Thursday, Mr Qureshi spoke to EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell and on Friday he had a tele-conversation with Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó. Earlier in the week, he also spoke to his Polish counterpart Zbigniew Rau.

Replying to a question, he said Pakistan had “excellent relations” with the United States and European countries. “We are committed to taking this relationship forward in an objective, balanced and fair manner to further expand the scope of our bilateral cooperation,” he added.

Mr Iftikhar also welcomed the confirmation of the nomination of US ambassador-designate Donald Blome by the US Senate. “We look forward to his arrival and we wish to have cordial relations and work closely to further strengthen the bilateral relations with the US,” he said.

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2022



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