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May 18, 2021

Resetting ties

 
May 18, 2021

Pakistan and the US have a long history of mutual friendship and have been close allies since the 1950s for the most part, together playing a role in many regional developments most notably in Afghanistan. Since the Biden government assumed power in Washington in January this year, there seems however to have been some loss of warmth, with few overtures made by the US to Pakistan. The decision by a Pakistan court to order the release of Omar Saeed Sheikh may have been a factor in what appears to be a cool off, with Washington obviously displeased over the freeing of the man who is accused of playing a role in the 2002 murder of Wall Street journalist Daniel Pearl.

Against this background, the telephonic conversation by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi with Secretary Blinken once again comes as a welcome step. The US secretary of state has in a tweet said his country hopes for a mutually beneficial relationship with Pakistan, while the Pakistan FM has said Pakistan hopes to build a close accord with the US, which would include economic relations and move along the path of Pakistan’s commitment to development and peace in the region and elsewhere. Pakistan has played a key part in recent talks between the US and the Taliban, and this could help persuade Washington to soften its stance towards the country and resume the friendship that has existed in the past. While Pakistan’s protests over Israel’s treatment of Palestinians may act as a deterring factor, we can only hope Washington itself will see that such vile and unjust treatment of the Palestinians can only lead to more problems in the troubled Middle East.

Pakistan needs the US as a partner in its efforts to develop as a nation which is not isolated and is able to play a role at various international forums. We can only hope then that the Biden Administration will show willingness to engage in a relationship with Pakistan which involves no dictation or threat to sovereignty but is based on the recognition that the two countries need to work together for the sake of the region, notably given the situation in Afghanistan. Inevitably, Afghanistan will be a key factor in any ties. Islamabad must also give out signals of its willingness to work with the Biden government, and make it clear to Washington that it wishes to engage in a mutually beneficial relationship. Washington is aware it cannot play an active role in the region without Pakistan’s active support. This has been the case since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. There are other reasons too for the two countries to work together in a climate where actions against Muslims in the West are creating greater anger in the Islamic world. The US hosts a large population of Pakistanis and has many reasons to work closely with Pakistan. Any misunderstandings must then be patched over, and efforts made to rebuild the relationship of the past, without allowing the US to dominate as far as Pakistan’s policy decisions go.