Blinken dials Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto, says committed to US-Pak relations

Significantly, the call shows that the US would be more open to engaging with the new Pakistan government under Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, unlike the previous government under Khan, whose anti-American rhetoric put Wahington off

May 07, 2022
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Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday held a telephonic call with Pakistan’s newly-appointed Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari—the first high-level contact at the political level in recent months–and expressed his commitment to strengthening cooperation between the two countries, including on Afghanistan and counter-terrorism.

“Spoke with Foreign Minister @BBhuttoZardari today. This year marks the 75th anniversary of U.S.-Pakistani relations, and we're committed to strengthening our relationship and our cooperation on Afghan stability, combatting terrorism, and expanding commerce #PakUSAt75,” Blinken said in a Twitter post.

The statement released by the State Department said Blinken reiterated the desire to strengthen our broad-based bilateral relationship and “underscored the resolute U.S.-Pakistan commitment” to Afghan stability and combatting terrorism.

The call from Blinken is significant for two reasons: first, Washington had seemingly downgraded ties with Islamabad to the under-secretary level last year; secondly, the ties between the countries came under strain in the months leading to the ouster of former prime minister Imran Khan.

Bhutto, 33, the Oxford-educated son of a former prime minister (Benazir Bhutto) and president of Pakistan (Asif Ali Zardari) who came to office just two weeks ago, said he was grateful for “warm felicitations”, and had exchanged views with Blinken on “strengthening mutually beneficial and broad-based relationship” with the United States.

Blinken also invited Bhutto to attend a UN conference on food security, scheduled for 18 May in New York.

Significantly, the call shows that the US would be more open to engaging with the new Pakistan government under Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, unlike the previous government under Khan, whose anti-American rhetoric put Wahington off. Importantly, US President Joe Biden had not spoken even for once to Imran Khan when the latter was in power, a slight that rankled Khan right through his term in office.

Contrary to Khan, Prime Minister Sharif since his day one in office has prioritized cordial and friendly ties with the US and called Washington an important strategic partner. On Thursday, a day before Blinken’s call, the State Department said Washington will continue to work with Islamabad on areas of mutual interest, including counterterrorism and border security.

However, analysts warn against reading much into this call.

“This is not a sign of stepped-up cooperation since Imran Khan's ouster. US-Pak collaborations on development/non-security issues have been ongoing in recent months,” Michael Kugelman, associate fellow at the Washington-based The Wilson Centre, said in a tweet.  

(SAM)

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