Dar-Blinken phone call

The two Foreign Ministers covered bilateral relations, but left out the elephant in the room

That US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken telephoned his Pakistani counterpart, Ishaq Dar, in a follow-up to the letter of congratulation on assuming office sent by US President Joe Biden, to Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. The letter showed that there was an improvement in US-Pakistan relations, and may have supported the PTI’s narrative that the USA was upset at party chief Imran Khan, whom Mr Biden never spoke to after taking office. Mr Khan’s claim that the USA toppled his government also did not help. Mr Sharif in his first term had tried to improve relations, as had the caretaker government. The relationship is an important one for Pakistan, as the US engagement with Afghanistan, both when it was occupied by the USSR and when it was itself the occupier, has been replaced with the USA’s jostling with China, Pakistan’s most dependable regional friend. For the first time since Pakistan’s coming into existence, Pakistan is finding itself opposed to the USA.

Perhaps nothing better shows this than the USA’s growing closer to India, and its ongoing attempt to prop it up as a counterweight to China. Because of this closeness to the USA, India is trying to use the USA into forcing Pakistan to accept its regional hegemony. This in turn means allowing India to force Pakistan to accept its solutions to regional problems. The USA and Pakistan are on opposite sides in the Gaza conflict, with Israel enjoying total US support and Palestinians enjoying much sympathy among Pakistanis. Among the bilateral issues discussed were trade and investment, climate change, agriculture and security.

Pakistan needs to be cautious moving forward. The USA is definitely Pakistan’s most important relationship, but that should not mean that Pakistan should ignore its own national interests. At the same time, Pakistan must keep in mind that President Biden is facing a tough re-election contest in November, and thus the Shehbaz government does not have a pressing need to be too friendly to the Biden Administration. The area of agreement with the USA is shrinking: China, Gaza and the Ukraine: the Shehbaz government is as opposed to the USA as the PTI ever was. Still, Pakistan has played a facilitating role half a century ago, and it should remain ready to play it once again.

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The Editorial Department of Pakistan Today can be contacted at: [email protected].

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