Updates for Pakistan
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Pakistan’s national security adviser has complained that US President Joe Biden has failed to contact Prime Minister Imran Khan as Washington seeks help to prevent the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops.
The cold shoulder from Washington comes as the Taliban have taken over swathes of territory across Afghanistan in a relentless offensive encouraged by the US withdrawal. The government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has openly criticized Pakistan for supporting the Taliban in safeguarding its strategic interests in the region.
Washington has leaned on Pakistan in recent years to bring high-ranking Taliban leaders to the negotiating table and negotiate a deal to leave the country with few attacks on US soldiers. But despite calls from Khan to be a partner for peace and expand US-Pakistan relations beyond Afghanistan, Biden has not called him since taking office this year.
“The President of the United States has not spoken to the Prime Minister of such an important country, which the US itself says makes or breaks everything in Afghanistan in some cases, in some ways – we are struggling to understand the signal , However? ?” Moeed Yusuf, Pakistan’s national security adviser, told the The Washington City Times in an interview at the Pakistani embassy in Washington.
“We’ve been told that every time. . . [the phone call] will happen, it’s technical reasons or whatever. But honestly, people don’t believe it,” he said.
“If a phone call is a concession, if a security relationship is a concession, Pakistan has options,” he added, refusing to elaborate.
Pakistan has maintained close ties with its ‘iron brother’ China, which has invested billions in infrastructure projects as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.
A senior official in the Biden administration said: “There are still a number of world leaders that President Biden has not yet had the opportunity to meet in person. He looks forward to speaking with Prime Minister Khan when the time is right.”
The diplomatic insult is the latest setback in US-Pakistan relations following their cooperation during the war on terror following the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers by al-Qaeda, the Islamist group founded by Osama bin Laden.
In 2004, the US named Pakistan an official major non-Nato ally, spurred on by Washington’s need for support to fight in Afghanistan. But since then, US governments have regularly accused their ally of harboring Taliban insurgents, claims Pakistan denies.
Under the Trump administration, the US cut off $2 billion in security aid to Pakistan after Donald Trump accused his ally of “nothing but lies and deceit”. However, after Trump struck a deal with the Taliban who relied on aid from Pakistan, he invited Khan to the White House.
Yusuf traveled to Washington as part of a delegation, including the head of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence, to discuss the Afghan crisis.
A person familiar with last week’s discussions with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the conversation about Afghanistan had been “difficult” but reaching a political settlement — which regional experts view as unlikely while the Taliban is making a profit on the battlefield – could help improve the US-Pakistan relationship dramatically.
“A lot of effort is being made to get that” [negotiated settlement] process to be a more meaningful process,” the person said. “This is a time where our interests are probably really aligned, but it’s really up to them to see what they want to do next.”
Some analysts in Washington have suggested Khan was rejected because he is seen as a puppet of Pakistan’s powerful security and military apparatus.
“There is no civil-military separation in Pakistan, let me be categorical if the Prime Minister had not ordered me and the delegation to be here, we would not have been here,” said Yusuf, adding that Pakistan had reduced influence on the Taliban.
During their visit, US broadcaster PBS aired an interview with Khan, in which he said the US “really screwed up” in Afghanistan, adding that Washington had treated Pakistan “more like a hit man”. It was one of the recent series of critical pieces aimed at the American public that some US officials found oddly timed given Pakistan’s efforts to bring about a reset.
Yusuf said his talk with Sullivan had been “constructive” but that Pakistan would “reconsider” such media appearances if they backfired, saying the aim was “to upset no one” [but to] puts very frankly Pakistan’s view on the situation”.
Additional reporting by Stephanie Findlay in New Delhi