WASHINGTON: The US has called on all sides in Pakistan to allow the people elect their future leadership, in accordance with the country’s laws and Constitution.

At a departmental press briefing on Monday afternoon, State Depa­rtment Spokesperson Vedant Patel said that any implication of violence, harassment, or intimidation has no place in politics.

He was responding to a question regarding the “current political chaos in Pakistan”, and specifically, the threats made by Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah to former prime minister Imran Khan, during a recently broadcast interview.

While Mr Patel was careful not to comment on the minister’s remarks, he said that Washington encouraged “all sides in Pakistan to respect the rule of law and allow the people of Pakistan to democratically determine their own country’s leadership pursuant to their own Constitution and laws.”

State Dept spokesperson distances himself from Khalilzad’s remarks

The statement — made at a news briefing on Monday afternoon — is being seen as many as indicating Washington’s desire to convince the people of Pakistan that it shares their concerns, but does not support any particular party or leader.

However, it leaves enough space for both the government and the opposition to interpret it as supporting their respective positions.

At recent events in the US capital, diplomats have privately shared concerns over the current situation in Pakistan. American policy makers, they say, wanted people of Pakistan to know that they were on their side, but fear that whatever they say could be interpreted as supporting one party or the other.

“They also know that silence can also be interpreted by both sides as [tacit] support. That’s why they do comment on the situation but very carefully,” one source told Dawn.

This care was also evident in Mr Patel’s response to a question about Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad’s recent remarks regarding Paki­stani politics.

“Mr Khalilzad is a private citizen, and any social media activity or comments or tweets that you might reference, those are done in his private capacity, does not represent US foreign policy, and he does not speak for this administration,” he said.

Earlier this month, Mr Khalilzad — who served as the special envoy for Afghan reconciliation under both the Trump and Biden administrations — had said that this bitter political dispute was hurting Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office reacted strongly to Mr Khalilzad’s remarks, urging him not to offer unsolicited advice.

In a fresh statement on Tuesday, Mr Khalilzad termed Raha Sanau­llah’s statement ‘shocking’, and equated it to incitement to violence against a major political leader. He also called on PM Shehbaz Sharif to dissociate himself from the minister’s comments.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2023

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