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Tuesday April 23, 2024

A reset in ties?

Biden underscored shared priorities in areas such as public health, economic development, and education, affirming a commitment to advancing together

By Editorial Board
April 03, 2024
US President Joe Biden addresses an even. — AFP/File
US President Joe Biden addresses an even. — AFP/File 

US President Joe Biden has pledged to stand by Pakistan’s new government in the challenges facing the country and the region. In his first letter written to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Biden emphasized the importance of the partnership between the two nations in ensuring regional and global security. Biden underscored shared priorities in areas such as public health, economic development, and education, affirming a commitment to advancing together. He also expressed Washington’s desire to strengthen the alliance with Pakistan. This first diplomatic outreach is being seen as a sign of a thawing in relations that had gone cold after the cipher controversy stirred up by former premier and PTI founder Imran Khan before a successful vote of no-confidence ousted his government two years ago in April 2022. Responding to Biden’s letter, PM Shehbaz has said Pakistan desired to work with the US for the achievement of shared goals of global peace and stability, and regional progress and prosperity.

For the last 75 years, diplomatic relations between Pakistan and the US have seen many ups and downs, in particular due to the regional situation related to Afghanistan – first during the Afghan jihad and later in the war on terror. In the aftermath of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pak-US relations saw a frostiness that was different from the usual carrot-and-stick policy the US had adopted towards Pakistan during the war on terror for almost two decades. US President Joe Biden did not call former PM Imran Khan for months after taking charge, something that was discussed frequently when Imran Khan was in power. Some blamed this on Pakistan’s support of the Afghan Taliban over the years while others believed that apart from Pakistan’s support of the Afghan Taliban, the way the Imran government came out in support of the Afghan Taliban had agitated the superpower. Imran Khan’s statement that the Afghans broke the ‘shackles of slavery’ did not help ties either. During the last months of Imran’s government, the relationship between the two countries soured. After the vote of no-confidence, Imran’s allegations regarding the cipher, US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu, and the alleged role of the US in a ‘foreign conspiracy’ to oust his government led to further tensions between the two countries.

The previous PDM government did make efforts to reset the relationship. Former foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s 16-month tenure did help rebuild the relationship to some extent and now that a new government is in place after the general elections, Biden’s letter is being seen as an outreach opportunity to reset the ties in the long run. Many experts believe that the real test will be Pak-China relations as it is no secret that when it comes to CPEC, the US has its reservations because of China’s growing influence in South Asia. These reservations are not going anywhere, given that global powers keep their own interests foremost, but Pakistan needs to maintain a healthy relationship with its longtime partner China while also having a grip on ties with the US. Pakistan’s relationship with China cannot be held hostage due to any country and the Shehbaz-led government acknowledges China’s important role in the region. China has been with Pakistan through thick and thin while the US is one of Pakistan’s largest export destinations apart from holding an important role due to its role as a superpower. This is a balancing dance every government is expected to perform. Our future lies in how well our governments do in this intricate dance of balance.