US-Pak ties President Joe Biden’s Positive Message To Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif E Tv Bharat 11 Apr 2024 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


US-Pak ties: President Joe Biden’s Positive Message To Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif E Tv Bharat 11 Apr 2024

          US President Joe Biden recently sent a communication to Pak PM Shehbaz Sharif mentioning that Washington will continue to stand alongside them ‘to tackle the most pressing global and regional challenges of our time.’ There had been no contact between the top leadership of the two nations since Imran Khan met Donald Trump at the White House in Jul 2019.

          Interestingly, Biden made no mention of congratulations to Shehbaz for assuming the chair of the PM, sympathy for terrorist strikes on its soil or even economic support. It mentioned cooperation on climate change, human rights, education and health. Islamabad is currently negotiating for an additional loan from the IMF for which it needs US support.    

Following the communication from Biden was a telephone conversation between US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, and Pak foreign minister, Ishaq Dar. The official statement mentioned that both sides ‘reiterated their dedication to strengthening bilateral cooperation across all spheres of mutual interest.’ It added, ‘matters of regional importance such as the situation in Gaza, the Red Sea, and developments in Afghanistan were also discussed.’

This US-Pak interaction was assessed, in Pak strategic circles, from routine to a breakthrough in ties. Some assume it to be a change in US policy towards Pak. After the 08 Feb Pak elections, 30 members of the US Congress wrote to President Biden and Antony Blinken, asking them not to recognize Pakistan’s new government claiming election manipulation. It is possibly this which prompted Biden to avoid congratulating Shehbaz on his appointment.

          Pakistan, on its part, has worked to balance its ties between Beijing and Washington. Relations soured after the US’s hurried withdrawal from Afghanistan. It finally blamed Pakistan for supporting the Taliban. It got worse after Imran’s ill-timed visit to Moscow, coinciding with the Ukraine war. What further damaged ties was Imran accusing the US of being behind his ouster based on his infamous ‘cipher’ claim. 

Imran publicly accused Donald Lu, the US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, of discussing his removal with the Pak ambassador in Washington, who in turn sent a cipher on the subject to Islamabad. Imran remains in jail after being judged guilty in multiple cases.

While Pakistan maintained neutrality in the Russo-Ukraine conflict, it unofficially supplied ammunition to Ukraine through two US private companies, earning USD 364 million. These were air-lifted from Pakistan’s Nur Khan air force base by British military cargo planes. This restored confidence in ties and resulted in the Pak army chief, General Asim Munir, visiting the US in Dec last year, where he met US Secretaries of State and Defence amongst others.

It is possible that Munir’s visit was the precursor to what subsequently followed in Pak, delayed elections and incarceration of Imran Khan, days prior to elections. Since this was approved by the US, there was no criticism by them. The US Spokesperson mentioned, ‘it is ultimately for the people of Pakistan to decide their political future.’ Compare this to comments on the arrest of Kejriwal. This difference in approach was also highlighted by a Pak journalist in a press conference with US State Department spokesperson, Mathew Miller.

For the US, increased Chinese influence in Pak is undesirable as also is completion of the CPEC and the port of Gwadar. A functional Gwadar could become a Chinese naval base as the port has been given on a forty-year lease to China. This would enable Beijing to dominate the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman, adding to US and India’s security concerns. The US also does not desire that the BRI (Belt Road Initiative) expand into Afghanistan.

Further, the US wants Pakistan to continue providing support to the Jaish al-Adl, an anti-Iran Sunni terrorist group. The attack by this group on Chabahar port, a day after Iran threatened retaliation on Israel for its attack on its embassy compound in Damascus, would possibly have been prompted by Pak on directions of the US. The call from Blinken coincided with this strike.

Inputs indicate that attacks by Jaish al-Adl have increased in recent days spreading across Iran. Earlier cross-border missile strikes on Pak soil by Iran were a sign of frustration on Islamabad adhering to US demands and supporting anti-Iran terrorist groups.

Afghanistan is no longer a threat to any nation, other than Pakistan. Attacks by Rawalpindi across the border could add to instability within it resulting in undesirable terrorist groups regaining a foothold. Hence, the US is insisting that Pak restrict its retaliation against the TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) and Baloch freedom fighters on its own soil. Two different US spokespersons mentioned post Pak airstrikes on Afghanistan, ‘We urge Pakistan to exercise restraint and ensure civilians are not harmed in their counter-terrorism efforts.’  

Pakistan’s deep state is known to be officially backing the ISKP (Islamic State Khorasan Province), a branch of ISIS, which it employs against the Afghan government in conjunction with Tajikistan, which supports the National Resistance Front, also fighting the Kabul regime. This is in retaliation to Kabul backing the TTP. The US is aware of it. The recent attack in Moscow was claimed by the ISKP and those arrested were originally from Tajikistan.

Russia has thus far been accusing Kiev intending to gain domestic support for the ongoing war in Ukraine, though aware of Pakistan providing ISKP bases on its soil. That the US knew of the strikes two days before they occurred indicates it had requisite inputs. This could possibly have flowed from Pakistan.

For Pakistan, a loan from the IMF is essential to ensure it avoids default. For this it needs Washington’s support and would have to do its bidding. Loan conditions would firmly mention that these funds cannot be utilized to repay Chinese loans, pushing Pak to request Beijing for restructuring existing loans. India is also working to endorse that terms of the loan specifically mention that they are not to be expended towards defence but development.

Pakistan would also be seeking upgradation, spares and ammunition for its F 16 fleet, which it can only procure from the US. For this, it needs Washington on its side. India is well aware of Pak’s dilemma and US influence over it. It also knows that Washington can control Pak’s terrorist taps. Hence New Delhi will work towards pushing Washington to act in its favour.

Despite Pakistan’s proximity to China, US influence is evident in the country. Chinese demands for placing its security personnel in Pakistan for protection of its workforce involved in the CPEC will be rejected by Islamabad unless the US agrees. Islamabad will continue attempting to play the balancing game but the same would not be easy. One slip and it could lose support from one of its two benefactors, both of whom are essential for its survival.