WASHINGTON / ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday reiterated the need for cooperation with the United States and India, while assuring Beijing of further deepening of relations.
“The new government wishes to constructively and positively engage with the US to promote shared goals of peace, security and development in the region,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in response to a White House statement on Mr Sharif taking over as the new prime minister.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had earlier said that a democratic Pakistan was critical to US interests.
Ties between Islamabad and Washington touched a new low after former prime minister Imran Khan accused the US of conspiring to dislodge his government. He based his allegation on a diplomatic cable in which it was reportedly said that a State Department official had warned of consequences for bilateral ties if the no-confidence motion failed.
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Washington has denied the allegation.
Mending fences with the US would be one of the top foreign policy priorities for the new government.
Mr Sharif, while speaking in the National Assembly after his election, noted “confusion” in ties and said that it did not mean an end to the historic relationship.
The same was repeated in the PM Office statement, which welcomed US reaffirmation of long-standing ties with Pakistan and said that the new government looked forward to deepening this “important relationship” on the principles of equality, mutual interest and mutual benefit.
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Meanwhile, in response to a congratulatory tweet by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mr Sharif called for securing peace and focusing on socio-economic development of the people.
“Pakistan desires peaceful & cooperative ties with India. Peaceful settlement of outstanding disputes, including Jammu & Kashmir, is indispensable,” he further said.
Talking to the Charge d’ Affaires of People’s Republic of China, Ms Pang Chunxue, who called on him, PM Sharif affirmed his government’s commitment to further deepening the win-win economic cooperative partnership between the two countries.
He expressed his government’s resolve to speed up high quality development of CPEC projects and make it a symbol of China-Pakistan friendship and close partnership. He, moreover, underlined the importance of enhanced investment from China in industrialization, agriculture, and digital technologies.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also greeted Mr Sharif. According to a statement by Russia’s embassy in Pakistan, hoped that the new government will “contribute to further development of the Pakistan-Russia cooperation and partner interaction on the Afghan settlement as well as countering international terrorism.”
At the Monday afternoon news briefing in Washington, a journalist asked White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki what was the administration’s reaction to the new developments in Pakistan. “Does President Biden plan to speak with the country’s new prime minister?”
Responding to the first part of the question, Ms Psaki said the United States “support(s) the peaceful upholding of constitutional democratic principles. We don’t support one political party over another, and we certainly support the principles of rule of law and equal justice under the law.”
Recalling that the United States and Pakistan were old allies, she said: “We value our long standing cooperation with Pakistan, and have always viewed a prosperous and democratic Pakistan as critical to US interests. That remains unchanged, regardless of who leadership is.”
Responding to the question about President Biden calling the new prime minister, she said she did not “have anything to predict at this point in time. Obviously, we stay in close touch with them at a range of levels.”
A third journalist tried a different approach and asked to get more information from the White House Press Secretary on Mr Biden’s call. “What arrangements does the administration have to contact him (Mr Sharif) and what’s moving forward on that?” he asked.
“I don’t have a prediction of a call at this point in time. Obviously, those are assessments made day by day, especially after new leaders are elected,” Ms Psaki said.
“We have a long, strong, and abiding relationship with Pakistan, an important security relationship, and that will continue under new leaders,” she added.
Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2022