WASHINGTON: Pointing out that the United States has had a ‘vital relationship’ with Pakistan for almost 75 years, the US State Department has expressed the desire to ‘work closely’ with the new government to further strengthen these ties.

The State Department and the White House have issued more than a dozen statements on the current political situation in Pakistan since March, when the current political turmoil began, dispelling the impression that it was ready to move away from its old ally to strengthen its partnership with India.

The latest statement, issued at a news briefing on Monday evening, was even more significant as it came as a response to a question that sought US condemnation of Pakistan’s airstrikes on terrorist targets in Afghanistan.

“I don’t know if ... the United States still has influence (in) Pakistan, especially (on) the new government. (But) what can the United States do to bring pressure on Pakistan to change their policy toward Afghanistan?” asked an Afghan journalist while referring to the strikes.

State Dept dispels impression Washington is moving away from old ally Islamabad

“We are aware of the reports of Pakistani airstrikes in Afghanistan, but we’d refer you to the Pakistani government for comment,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said.

What followed was a strong endorsement of Pakistan’s policy towards the militants who use their bases in Afghanistan for carrying out attacks into Pakistan. Mr Price also made it clear that the United States and Pakistan were working together in Afghanistan.

“We view Pakistan as an important stakeholder, an important partner, with whom we are engaging and have engaged as we work together to bring about an Afghanistan that is more stable, is more secure, is more prosperous,” he said.

“And importantly,” the US and Pakistan also want an Afghanistan that “respects the basic and fundamental rights of its people, all of its people, including its minorities, its women, its girls,” he added.

Mr Price then moved on to bilateral ties, emphasising that “for almost 75 years our relationship with Pakistan has been a vital one” and the US wants to retain this strong partnership.

“We look forward to continuing that work with the new government in Pakistan across regional and international issues,” he said. “This is work that has the potential to promote peace and prosperity in Pakistan and throughout the region.”

Mr Price then recalled that the United States has already congratulated the new Pakistani prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, on his election. “And we look forward to working closely with his government.”

The desire to continue its 75-year old partnership with Islamabad has been a recurring theme in recent US statements on Pakistan.

Even at the height of the current political turmoil, when the former prime minister Imran Khan was constantly blaming Washington for backing the move to topple his government, the United States maintained this theme.

At one of the briefings during the crisis, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki clarified that differences with a government would not affect the relationship.

“We value our long standing cooperation with Pakistan and have always viewed a prosperous and democratic Pakistan critical to US interests,” she said. “That remains unchanged regardless of who the leadership is.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken also underlined this point in his congratulatory message to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

“Pakistan has been an important partner on wide-ranging mutual interests for nearly 75 years and we value our relationship,” he said.

In another statement during the crisis, the US Department of Defence spoke of “a healthy military-to-military relationship” with Pakistan, hoping that these strong ties would continue in future as well.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby also rejected the suggestion that the United States could be forced to send its troops to Pakistan if the political situation in the country deteriorated. “I don’t foresee any US military role here,” he said.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2022

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