Pakistan has reached out to the United States with a message that skipping the Democracy Summit does not mean the country has joined any bloc or has no interest in the bilateral relationship with Washington.
Days after Pakistan declined invitation for the democracy summit, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi spoke to US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and explained Pakistan’s position regarding its decision not to attend the summit, official sources familiar with the development told The Express Tribune.
Pakistan stayed away from the summit in a decision that was seen as taken because of China, which has not been invited and a move seen as US President Joe Biden’s attempt to divide the world because Taiwan was invited to the summit.
Over 100 countries, including Pakistan, was invited to the virtual summit for democracy. Pakistan was among the four South Asian countries to have been extended the invitation by the Biden Administration.
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Islamabad took several days before taking the final decision as it not only did in-house consultations but also consulted China. Pakistan’s decision to skip the summit was welcomed by China and its foreign ministry spokesperson tweeted calling Pakistan “a real iron brother.”
Pakistan, however, tried to delink its decision with any external factors, though officials privately acknowledged that China’s opposition to the summit made it difficult for the country to attend the gathering.
But despite that decision the Foreign Office made it clear that Pakistan “values its relationship with the US and wants to expand it further”. In order to avoid the possible negative fallout of the decision, Foreign Minister Qureshi wanted to speak to his US counterpart but because of his non-availability he had to speak to his deputy.
During the telephonic conversation, Qureshi gave reasons why Pakistan stayed away from the summit. The foreign minister told the US deputy secretary of State that Pakistan would not take sides in the power politics of big countries.
Qureshi had confirmed that he spoke to Deputy Secretary Sherman two days ago. And contrary to the apparent strain in ties, Qureshi told reporters in Islamabad that he was “satisfied” with his conversation with Sherman. Qureshi said he was glad to know that Deputy Secretary Sherman expressed the Biden administration’s desire to expand ties with Pakistan beyond Afghanistan.
“This is a positive development,” the foreign minister said, adding that Pakistan had requested the US not to put it in a difficult situation as the country wanted to move away from geo-politics to geo-economics. “The US can help us in achieving that transformation.”
“We have told them (US) that we want a productive relationship with all the countries,” Qureshi said. “We believe the US is an important country and will remain so. Our relationship has seen many ups and downs but both countries benefit whenever they work together,” Qureshi emphasised.
With the fear of a new cold war between the US and China, Pakistan is struggling to maintain a balance in ties between the two big powers. On the one hand Pakistan has longstanding strategic ties with China while on the other, it considers relationship with the US as vital given the enormous clout Washington still exercises over the international financial system.
But Pakistani policymakers fear that the country’s move to virtually snub the US on the democracy summit may have serious repercussions.
Qureshi did not agree.
He said the positive role played by Pakistan in the Afghan peace efforts, intra-Afghan dialogue and evacuation of foreigners was being acknowledged by the international community. He said everyone knew Pakistan also had a role in averting the humanitarian crises in Afghanistan.
“So, Pakistan is an important regional player to be reckoned with. No one now talks of sanctioning Pakistan. There is a new realisation,” Qureshi claimed. He said Pakistan had decided in principle to look after its own interests and would never become part of any new cold war or conflict between the big powers.