Just as the government’s foreign affairs apparatus was basking in the glory of a rare, open statement by the Germans on Kashmir, US President Joe Biden set it reeling in discomfort by giving a rather unhinged statement about Pakistan’s nuclear assets. At a Democratic congressional campaign committee reception on Thursday, Biden said Pakistan may be “one of the most dangerous nations in the world” as the country has “nuclear weapons without any cohesion”.
The government, understandably, has gone in damage control mode, though it is rather difficult to play these particular cards. For instance, foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto has said that this wasn’t a policy statement, but merely an utterance at a political event. That doesn’t quite mute the effect of the statement and the foreign minister is wise enough to know that.
The Prime Minister has issued a statement that plays it safe. We are a safe and responsible nuclear nation, he has asserted, leaving the defence minister to go into not-vanilla territory, with a tweet alluding to the last time the U.S. was wrong about the nuclear assets of another country: Iraq.
The PTI, unsurprisingly, is pulling no punches on this issue. That much was expected. Our government was accused to messing up foreign relations, one PTI leader after the other is saying, but never were we accused of being an unstable nuclear nation by none other than the American president himself. This has led to counterattacks by the PDM supporters: didn’t Imran Khan very publicly express concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear assets after he lost the no-confidence-vote?
Perhaps the State Department in the US also needs to do some image management of its own. Yes, such statements are the President’s prerogative but surely Secretary of State Blinken could ask his boss to clear them with him before uttering them. These aren’t hollow statements; their consequences are far reaching and not necessarily good even for US policy.
Lastly, of course, there is nothing wrong with some introspection of our own. Are we a nuclear state? Yes. Do we appear to have issues with national cohesion? Yes. Do we have a militancy problem, one that often spills outside our borders as well? Yes. Is our democratic process constantly being interrupted by non-representative, non-democratic forces? Yes. And, owing to a scuttled process, even our political class – or at least elements within it – also goes with a scorched earth policy when they are out of power rather than not crossing certain red lines. The US, a nuclear power whose lack of national cohesion was seen in the attack on the Capitol in D.C., can be accused of chutzpah, but could other members of the comity of nations be blamed for having similar apprehensions?