WASHINGTON: As many as 66 US lawmakers have urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken to push for democracy and human rights in Pakistan, although the Biden administration is still reluctant to take sides in the current political dispute.

“We write to express our concerns about the current situation in Pakistan and urge you to use all diplomatic tools at your disposal to pressure the government of Pakistan towards a greater commitment to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter they sent to Secretary Blinken.

The lawmakers also urged Blinken to persuade Islamabad to “investigate any infringement upon freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in Pakistan”.

But at a series of recent news briefings in Washington, the US State Department made it clear that Washington would not favour one political party or candidate in Pakistan over another.

“You have heard me say this a number of times now, for the past few weeks, but I will use this opportunity to say again that we do not choose a political party or a particular candidate when it comes to Pakistan,” the department’s spokesperson Vedant Patel had said.

Responding to a journalist who raised the issue again on Tuesday, he said: “As it relates to Pakistan, our view is that a strong, stable, prosperous Pakistan is key to a strong and stable US-Pakistan relationship.”

Meanwhile, the Pakistani American Political Action Committee (PAKPAC), which initiated the move, has commended the 66 lawmakers for writing the letter to Secretary Blinken.

The letter, coauthored by Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat, and Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, was released days after former prime minister Imran Khan was arrested. The arrest brought large crowds to the streets in Pakistan and led to violent clashes between the protesters and law enforcement personnel.

At least 10 people were killed in those clashes and several government buildings were ransacked and set on fire, which led to more arrests across the country.

“This alarming turn of events has sparked immense concern amongst the Pakistani American community and amplified the urgency for immediate action to protect democratic institutions, independent judiciary, freedom of press and human rights in Pakistan,” the PAKPAC said in a statement.

The group’s president Asad Malik emphasised the importance of providing bipartisan — Democrats and Republicans — support to the Pakistani people during this challenging time.

“At this critical juncture, with the foundations of democracy in Pakistan under threat, it is heartening to see members of both parties uniting to express their deep concern and stand up for the principles we hold dear,” he said.

“The bipartisan support for this letter demonstrates the unwavering commitment of our elected officials to upholding democracy and human rights, regardless of our political differences.”

The letter reminded Secretary Blinken that “supporting democracy in Pakistan is in the national interest of the United States”.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2023

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