Defence Minister Khawaja Asif has said Islamabad does “not have any problem” with the United States developing ties with India, provided that it did not come at Pakistan’s cost.

He expressed these views during an interview with Newsweek published today (Saturday) where he was asked about India expanding its relationship with the US, as well as ties between Islamabad and New Delhi, particularly in context of the Kashmir issue.

“I think we do not have any problem with the United States developing a partnership with India if it is not at the cost of Pakistan,” he said, adding that Pakistan wanted good relationships with its neighbours and regional partners.

“We have common borders with China, we have common borders with Afghanistan, Iran, India. We would like to improve our relationships with them if the relationship is not good. We want to live in peace. If there is no peace there, we will never be able to restore our economy the way we want to restore it,” he said.

In this connection, he also mentioned that Pakistan’s was a “vulnerable economy” and not a very big one.

“All we have is a geographical location, which is strategic, which attracts, I would say, not all the good things, it sometimes attracts some things which really make us even more vulnerable.”

Asif went on to say, “I personally feel that some appreciation is required in Washington about our situation, and we should not be pushed into a situation where we have to make some very hard choices.

“Our relationship with America for us is very valuable. It has its history. It has some disappointments, some huge disappointments, but still we value our relationship with the United States and we want that relationship to flourish.

“We are big trade partners, we have a very large Pakistani diaspora in the United States and Pakistani interests over there. So, their business interests are also, considering our size, they are quite attractive and large,” Asif said. “This is something which we have to balance and, under the circumstances, under economic pressures, we are finding it difficult, but we survive.”

The defence minister’s comments come ahead of US State Secretary Antony Blinken’s upcoming visit to Beijing on June 18 and 19 and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington days later.

In recent times, US President Joe Biden has made deepening ties with India a cornerstone of his efforts to contain China’s expanding influence, with his administration also hoping to persuade India to buy US military drones.

US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan recently said the US expects a “transformational moment” in India ties during Modi’s trip while one of Blinken’s objectives in China will be to manage escalation to ensure that the world’s two biggest military powers do not “veer into conflict”.

Regarding Blinken’s China visit, Asif expressed hope that affairs might improve between the two countries.

He said it was difficult for Pakistan in the last few decades to maintain the “balancing act between our relationship with the United States of America and with the regional powers like China, our friends in the Arabian Gulf, Iran, and, of course, the Russian Federation also”.

Further, the defence minister said: “The international geopolitical situation sometimes becomes very difficult for us to balance between different interest groups, or different groups which are jockeying for power and international influence. And Pakistan being a vulnerable country, both economically and strategically, it becomes difficult for us.

“I think I’ll come back to my answer to your original question: once we have economic stability in our country, I think we will really be in a better position to handle this situation. Our vulnerability, economic vulnerability, actually exposes us to so many problems, which sometimes we are unable to tackle.”

‘Anti-minority’ politics in India

Regarding Pakistan’s relations with India, Asif said the latter’s outlook towards regional politics had “completely changed” with Modi’s ascent a decade back.

“If you look at his politics in Gujarat, it was again based on anti-minority, it is based on communal tensions and of voting Hindu nationalist support by fanning sentiments against the community, and minorities, both Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and so many other communities that are very large.

“That has actually aggravated the situation between the two countries, with India taking a very nationalistic stand within the country,” Asif explained.

On Pakistan’s nuclear assets, the minister explained that they were not for any “jingoistic or hostile intentions” but to underline the country’s security.

“India had become a nuclear power. And we were compelled not to be gobbled by India over the years or over the decades. This is something which underwrites the peace in our region and to a great extent, our security. Otherwise, we have absolutely no intentions. Absolutely no.”

He asserted that Pakistan would “never, ever cross that threshold”, adding that nuclear capabilities were “something that just guarantees our independence”.

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