WASHINGTON: About a dozen US lawmakers gathered on the rooftop of a building across Capitol Hill this week, urging the Biden administration to stay engaged with Pakistan, a country they said was too important to be ignored.

And at least one lawmaker, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, however, offered to use his influence to help repair the damage done to US-Pakistan relations by the anti-American rhetoric of former prime minister Imran Khan.

Congressman Peter Meijer, a Republican lawmaker from Michigan, recalled how his father had spent time in Pakistan when Washington and Islamabad had started building “economic and strategic ties”.

And “now we have an opportunity to continue to develop those ties,” said the congressman while speaking at the fourth annual convention of the Pakistan-American Political Action Committee (PAKPAC) on the Hill.

Senate majority leader says he will help repair ‘damage’ done to ties

Congressman Admiral Ronny Jackson, an influential Republican lawmaker from Texas who also served in the US Navy, said he was “a big supporter of the organisation (PAKPAC) and your cause” and offered to “do anything I can to help” to promote this cause in Congress.

The group describes its cause as “rebuilding the strong ties” that united the two countries until recently, when relations began to strain over Afghanistan.

Several speakers argued that it was wrong to hyphenate bilateral relations with a third country, such as Afghanistan or India, as Pakistan on its own was an important country of 220 million people in a sensitive, nuclearised region.

Congressman André Carson, a Muslim Democrat from Indiana, also spoke about the Kashmir dispute and urged the United States to play a role in defusing tensions, “disagreements and the strife between Pakistan and India”.

Congresswoman Nicole Mallio­takis, a New York Democrat, noted that this was “a critical time for the people of Pakistan” and pleaded for “peace, stability and economic recovery” of the country and “for peace and stability in the region”.

Senator Schumer, who spoke at a meeting of the American-Pakistan Advocacy Group (APDG) in New York earlier this week, also hoped for the restoration of friendly ties between the two countries, noting that Pakistan was once a key US ally.

The Democratic senator, however, also asked the gathering who they support in Pakistan. Most in the audience said Imran Khan while a minority backed the current government.

Senator Schumer reminded the audience that their former prime minister “did not talk positively about the US” while “the incumbent Pakistani premier is expected to help foster bilateral ties”. Responding to Imran Khan’s allegation of continued US interference in internal Pakistani politics, the senator said the United States did not make its policies on individual likes and dislikes.

Asked how Washington would react if Imran Khan was reelected, Senator Schumer said: “We would accept and work with whoever is elected,” adding: “No matter how intensely you disagree with someone, the best way to resolve an issue is to hold dialogue.”

Published in Dawn, June 30th, 2022

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