WASHINGTON: This week’s democracy summit in Washington would be a test for Pakistan’s diplomacy as it’d look to rekindle ties with the US without irking its longtime ally China.

The virtual summit, led by the US, will begin on Tuesday (tomorrow).

Like the first democracy summit in 2021, both India and Pakistan have been invited to the summit. India attended the last meeting and may do so this year as well. Pakistan had opted out of the first summit, reportedly on back of the Biden administration’s refusal to reach out to the then prime minister Imran Khan.

For the cash-starved Pakistan, the summit could be a major opportunity to win over US support for raising funds from international lenders and bilateral donors.

But Pakistan’s long-standing ally and ‘all-weather friend’ China would be closely monitoring these overtures as the US has already annoyed Beijing by inviting Taiwan, China’s longstanding nemesis.

Washington invited Islamabad to participate in virtual moot on democracy

Beijing would want Pakistan to opt out of the ‘controversial’ moot but doing so will send negative signals to the US at a time when Islamabad wants Washington to be on its side to help secure a deal with the IMF.

The decision to keep Turkiye out of the summit was another cause of concern for Pakistan.

“One would expect Pakistan to pass again, assuming Taiwan is there, in deference to China,” said Michael Kugelman, a scholar of South Asian affairs at the Wilson Center, Washington.

“While very unlikely, I wouldn’t completely rule out Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari making an appearance,” Mr Kugelman said. “He’s been a very frequent visitor to the US lately.”

When contacted, officials at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington told Dawn they had not heard anything from Islamabad yet.

“Since it’s mostly a virtual meeting, Pakistan still has time to decide,” one of the embassy officials said. “The participation can be confirmed on Monday as well.”

The virtual summit has been co-sponsored by the US Department of State and USAID on the theme of ‘Global Declaration of Mayors for Democracy’.

The event will showcase the role of cities and subnational governments in the affirmation of democratic values and the renewal of democracy worldwide.

From March 29-30, the US will co-host the second ‘Summit for Democracy’ with the governments of Costa Rica, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea and the Republic of Zambia.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will participate in most of the events. On March 28, Secretary Blinken will chair a virtual panel session on ‘A Just and Lasting Peace in Ukraine’ featuring Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

On March 29, the leader of each co-host government will participate in a virtual session.

“While democracy requires more than credible elections, they shape public perception of democracy’s efficacy and are vital for expressing the will of the people,” said a document released by the US State Department before the summit.

“The integrity of a country’s elections — in other words, the degree to which they conform to international standards — is important for a government’s legitimacy, as well as domestic and international support,” the document added. The discussions will focus on efforts to end corruption in democratic nations.

There will be four sessions on each of the themes — International Cooperation for Anti-Corruption; Financial Transparency and Integrity; Non-governmental Stakeholder; and Technology and Anti-corruption.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2023

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