Pakistan tries to soothe US with charm offensive | The Express Tribune


ISLAMABAD:

Two days after declining President Joe Biden’s invitation for a summit on democracy, Pakistan on Friday tried to win over the US by emphasising the importance Islamabad attached to its relationship with Washington.

“We remain closely engaged with the US on a range of issues. We value our partnership with the US and we wish to expand it bilaterally as well as in terms of regional and international cooperation,” Foreign Office spokesperson Asim Iftikhar told a weekly news briefing.

But he could not cite a compelling reason as to why Pakistan opted out of the democracy summit if the country valued partnership with Washington.

When asked to explain rationale behind Pakistan’s move, the spokesperson referred to the statement already put out by the ministry on the issue and insisted he had nothing to add to it. “With regard to the summit for democracy, I would like to say that our issued statement speaks for itself.”

The cautious reaction and the carefully-drafted statement suggested that it was not an easy decision for Pakistan to take.

If the official sources are to be believed China was keen that Pakistan must stay away from President Biden’s initiative which, according to Beijing, was not meant for democracy but to advance the geostrategic interests of Washington.

The reaction by the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson calling Pakistan a “real iron brother” while sharing Pakistani Foreign Office statements was enough to suggest that Islamabad consulted Beijing before making the final decision.

Also read: Pakistan declines US democracy summit invitation

But China was not the only factor. Pakistan was also not happy with the format of the summit. Except for a few select leaders, who were to join Biden, others including Pakistan were asked to send pre-recorded statements for the summit of their respective leaders.

There was no debate or discussion planned and hence Islamabad felt it was appropriate to engage the US on the subject at an opportune moment.

When asked the spokesperson made it clear that Pakistan, in principle, never wanted to enter into bloc politics and the prime minister’s statement was reflective of that longstanding policy.

But observers feel that by staying away from the summit, Pakistan clearly sided with China.

The spokesperson, however, played down the debate on the decision to skip the summit. He termed it “unfounded” when asked if the decision to stay away from the summit was taken because China opposed it.

More than 100 countries were invited to the virtual summit. China and Russia were excluded, but Taiwan, which Beijing views as China’s part, was invited. The invitation to Taiwan drew a strong reaction from Beijing.

Both the Russian and Chinese envoys to the US penned a joint essay, criticising Washington for seeking divisions through organising such summits.

Meanwhile, official sources said the Pakistani decision should not be seen through the prism of bilateral exchanges. They added that both the countries were continuing with the normal bilateral engagements.

“There have been exchanges recently as you are aware that include a delegation led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Gregory W Meeks and there is another delegation arriving tonight led by Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Senator King, all reflective of continuing, cooperative exchanges with the US,” the spokesperson stressed.




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