Biden urged to call Shehbaz

Published April 26, 2022
A combination photo of US President Joe Biden (L) and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. — AFP/DawnNewsTV
A combination photo of US President Joe Biden (L) and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. — AFP/DawnNewsTV

WASHINGTON: A major US think tank — Brookings — urged President Joe Biden on Monday to call Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and reset America’s ties with Pakistan.

One of the writers of this report, Bruce Riedel, was an adviser to the Clinton and Obama administrations and is also close to the current Democratic set-up in Washington. The other, Madiha Afzal, is a fellow at the Centre for Middle East policy.

“The end of American involvement in Afghanistan and the change in leadership in Pakistan presents the United States with an opportunity to reset its long-troubled relationship with the world’s fifth most populous country,” they argue in their paper.

“President Biden should initiate a high-level dialogue with new Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who will be in power for up to a year before the next election is held.”

The authors noted that because US policy was focused on fighting wars in Afghanistan, “our primary partners in Pakistan were the intelligence service and the military. Less attention was devoted to the civilian government”.

“Now Washington can engage with Islamabad without prioritising Afghanistan issues at the expense of our broader interests in regional stability with India and China, encouraging development in South Asia, and supporting the strengthening of the elected democratic forces in Pakistan,” they argued. “America also has an interest in balancing somewhat the influence of China, Pakistan’s closest ally, on decision-making in Islamabad.”

The authors noted that the Biden administration, and in particular the White House, had given Pakistan a relative cold shoulder to date — “irked … ostensibly with then-prime minister Imran Khan publicly criticising the US”.

They noted that Mr Biden did not call Mr Khan while he was prime minister, although Brookings argued he should.

Urging the White House to call Shehbaz Sharif, the authors pointed out that Mr Sharif is a three-time former chief minister of Punjab, and brother of three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2022

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