WASHINGTON: Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari concluded his week-long visit to the United States on Thursday with an appeal to the international community to help Pakistan recover from the devastation of floods.

His talks with senior US officials and lawmakers — including Secretary of State Antony Blinken — also focused on Pakistan’s rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts.

“The deputy secretary and the foreign minister discussed Pakistan’s continuing efforts to recover from devastating floods and noted the upcoming Jan 9 International Conference on Climate Resilient Pakistan in Geneva,” said a statement issued on Wednesday afternoon after his meeting with the US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman.

A day ago, Mr Bhutto-Zardari had a telephone conversation with Secretary Blinken which also focused on the floods and the UN-sponsored conference in Geneva. They did not have a face-to-face meeting.

Says Pakistan will not launch war on Kabul; claims Imran wants to rig elections through ‘his men’ in army

The statement issued after his meeting with Ms Sherman said that they “committed to strengthen counterterrorism cooperation between the two nations.”

They also spoke about economic, energy, and environmental cooperation.

The deputy secretary and the foreign minister also discussed “the Taliban’s deplorable decision to further restrict women’s and girls’ access to education as well as efforts to hold the Taliban to its commitments regarding the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan,” the statement added.

On Wednesday evening, the foreign minister had his first, and only meeting with the Pakistani media on the trip to Washington, in which he too spoke about the need to stay focused on rehabilitation and reconstruction works, particularly in Sindh and Balochistan.

“No, I am not on a SOS plan,” said Mr Bhutto Zardari when asked if he had come to Washington with an SOS message to save the Pakistani economy from a possible collapse.

“We talked about not just the floods but also the economic situation,” he said, adding the floods had caused “a historical humanitarian crisis” in Pakistan as it inundated more than one-third of the country.

“It is the right of the victims that we talk about them first, but there was no SOS call,” he said.

The foreign minister said he reiterated this message in his meetings with US officials, lawmakers, and think-tank scholars.

The Jan 9 meeting in Geneva, he said, will be the first of many as Pakistan will soon do roadshows to highlight the issue.

“We also need support from international financial organisations, like the World Bank,” he said.

The foreign minister pointed out the Ukraine war had gravely impacted the international economy and Pakistan was facing the consequences too. “That’s why it needed help from the international community,” he added.

When asked to explain his earlier statement saying the TTP was an “absolute red line” for Pakistan and it would not allow anyone to conduct cross-border attacks into Pakistan, he said Pakistan will not declare war on Afghanistan.

“But Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers must stop these cross-border attacks.”

Mr Bhutto-Zardari said holding direct talks with the TTP would not help because they did not listen to logic and soft persuasions would not compel them to end violence.

“They will not become peaceful, chant Pakistan Zindabad and lay down weapons” like this.

“Only a hammer and anvil approach, with Kabul’s support, would work,” he said. But he did emphasise the need to engage the Afghan Taliban.

“They are our neighbours. We need to talk to them and stay engaged,” he said.

Commenting on the political situation, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said former prime minister Imran Khan was seeking early elections “because he still has his men in certain institutions.”

The foreign minister said Mr Khan wanted to use his assets in those institutions to rig the elections “but we will not allow this. Elections will be held on time.”

The last two parliaments, he said, completed their five-year terms and “this parliament will too. Elections will be held when due, in 2023.”“We cannot hold elections before time just to please Imran Khan. The sky will not fall if his desire to return to power is not fulfilled.”

Published in Dawn, December 23rd, 2022

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