JEN Psaki
JEN Psaki

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration has indicated its desire to continue a careful engagement with Pakistan without committing to either improving or degrading ties with a country that was once a close ally.

The indication came at a Friday afternoon news briefing at the White House when Press Secretary Jen Psaki ignored two provocative questions that she could have used to either criticise Pakistan’s current policies or to underline the US desire to repair ties with Islamabad.

A Pakistani journalist reminded her that many, many months ago Prime Minister Imran Khan had “requested a telephone conversation” with US President Joe Biden. “We haven’t heard anything about that. Is there a specific reason for not communicating with the Pakistani leadership?” the journalist asked.

“I don’t have any update on a planned call or engagement. Obviously, we engage with Pakistan and a range of leaders at a number of levels through the State Department, through our national security team,” the White House press secretary replied. “But in terms of a call or engagement with the president, I don’t have anything to predict on that front.”

When asked about Biden-Imran phone call, White House says it has no knowledge of that

The journalist then reminded Ms Psaki that Prime Minister Khan said at recent a public gathering that “he will not be a slave of America like other (Pakistani) politicians”.

“Would you like to comment on that?” he asked.

“We have a long relationship with Pakistan, and that is a relationship we’ll continue through diplomatic channels. So, I don’t have any more comments on that,” Ms Psaki responded.

Last month, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said at a news briefing that the United States still considered Pakistan a strategic partner and Islamabad does not need to strain its relations with Beijing to maintain ties with Washington.

“Pakistan is a strategic partner of the United States. We have an important relationship with the government in Islamabad, and it’s a relationship that we value across a number of fronts,” he said.

Pakistan was a close US ally during the cold war and remained so till the collapse of the Soviet Union. Pakistan played a key role in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan and partnered with the United States in the war against terrorism as well.

The relationship started to sour when Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was found in Abbottabad and the Obama administration took him out without informing Islamabad.

In July 2019, Prime Minister Khan made an “official working” visit to Washington where he met the then president Donald Trump at the White House. He had another meeting with Mr Trump in New York during the UN General Assembly in September 2019.

Since then, there has been no face-to-face meeting between the leaders of the two countries and President Biden is yet to make a courtesy call to the Pakistani prime minister.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2022

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