ISLAMABAD: In a surprise move, Pakistan on Tuesday decided against attending the two-day democracy summit taking place in Washington from today (Wednesday), saying it will engage with the US on a bilateral basis to encourage democratic values.

“Pakistan has not been part of the Summit process, which commenced in 2021 and required countries to make certain national commitments. The Summit process is now at an advanced stage and therefore, Pakistan would engage bilaterally with the United States and co-hosts of the Summit to promote and strengthen democratic principles and values and work towards advancing human rights and the fight against corruption,” the Foreign Office (FO) said in a statement.

The move comes at a time when Pakistan was facing a severe economic crunch and was eagerly looking for a bailout from International Monetary Fund (IMF), where many believe that the US can play a key role.

Observers believe that the decision was directly linked with Pakistan’s strategic ties with China — an all-weather friend — not invited to the meet, besides Turkiye. India and Taiwan have been invited to participate.

FO says Islamabad will engage with Washington on a bilateral basis to encourage democratic values

An official when contacted said Pakistan does not want to be part of any bloc. He said Pakistan had relations with both United States and China, which were not zero-sum.

Pakistan and China are close partners, and Pakistan is the flagship venue for Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative — the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor promises $62 billion worth of Chinese economic investments in Pakistan. The two countries also have a long-standing military and strategic partnership that dates back to the 1960s.

Pakistan had also skipped the first democracy summit held in 2021 - during the days of Imran Khan in power, followed by a tweet by a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman that Pakistan had declined to attend the summit and was a “real iron brother.”

The underlying message was that Pakistan declined the invitation in support of China, which had shown displeasure over Taiwan’s inclusion.

Another reason for not attending the 2021 summit was cold shoulder given to the then Prime Minister Imran Khan by Joe Biden administration.

Responding to media queries regarding invitation to attend the Second Summit for Democracy, the Foreign Office spokesperson on Tuesday however thanked the United States and the co-host countries for inviting Pakistan to attend the Second Summit for Democracy being held on March 29 and 30.

She said as a vibrant democracy, the people of Pakistan were deeply committed to democratic values and generations of Pakistanis time after time have upheld their faith in democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms.

“This month, the nation is celebrating the 50thanniversary of the 1973 Constitution that is the fountain of democratic polity in Pakistan,” she said.

The spokesperson said Pakistan valued its friendship with the United States. “Under this Biden Administration, this relationship has widened and expanded substantially. We remain committed to further solidifying this relationship for peace, stability, and prosperity in the region,” she remarked.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2023

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