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Will warming ties with the US be a lifeline for Pakistan?

A number of factors in Pakistan such as the alarming economic situation, continued grey-listing by the FATF, growing terrorism challenges created the exigency for a reset in its ties with Washington, writes Shraddha Nand Bhatnagar for South Asia Monitor 

Shraddha Nand Bhatnagar Jun 15, 2022
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Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, met US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in New York (Photo: Twitter)

The ties between Pakistan and the United States are all set for a reset, after having endured a cold and tense relationship for over a year against the backdrop of the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan and the end of the US intervention there. These issues dominated the ties between them in the last two decades.

Donald Blome, the new US ambassador to Pakistan, expressed Washington’s willingness for a “robust two-way” engagement with Pakistan “across all levels,” ranging from the government, political leaders and parties, the business community, civil society and youth.

Warming ties

The remark by Blome, the first US ambassador to Islamabad in the last four years, is significant, indicating Washington’s openness to a comprehensive engagement -- something Islamabad had been seeking for months.

Notably, this comes at a time when the anti-American sentiments in Pakistan run very high, mainly fueled by the conspiracy theories by former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who continues to blame Washington for the ouster of his government -- an allegation Blome also denied.

The momentum for the reset gained traction, especially after the new government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif made a continuous positive overture in a sustained manner to Washington. 

Positive signals 

Last month, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, met US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in New York on the sideline of the UN conference on food security. Terming the meeting “very encouraging, very positive”, Bhutto said: “Pakistan must continue to engage with the United States at all levels.” 

On the other hand, Blinken assured Bhutto that the Biden administration was looking forward to “expanding partnership” with Islamabad -- a marked shift from September last year when he told the US Congress that Washington will “reassess” its ties with Pakistan to see what role it can play there.

FATF grey listing

A number of factors within Pakistan -- such as the alarming economic situation, continued grey-listing by the FATF, growing terrorism challenges and climate change -- further created the exigency for a reset in its ties with Washington.

On the other hand, in the United States, there are growing concerns about the failing economy of Pakistan, a nuclear country and home to scores of Islamist extremist and militant groups.

Dawn newspaper reported that China and some other allies are “quietly working” to get Pakistan delisted from the grey listing in the ongoing plenary session of the FATF between June 14 and 17.

“There is a ‘significant momentum’ amongst the US and its ‘five eyes’ intelligence alliance of THE UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as well as some European countries to begin the process of removing Pakistan from the grey list,” The Hindu reported, citing diplomatic sources in India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

Economic challenges 

On the economic front, Islamabad has been facing the daunting task of wresting the fast depleting foreign exchange reserves to avert a disaster like Sri Lanka. However, despite weeks of talks, there has been no breakthrough with the IMF yet.

The Sharif government, which came to power in April and has little over a year time left to go into elections, remains slow to rollout financial measures like withdrawing subsidies on fuel and electricity which are essential to unlock the IMF bailout package of $6 billion.

Recently, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail warned that the country would default on its loans if the government didn’t withdraw electricity subsidies. The time is fast running out and the only option left for the government is to take tough measures, which will be painful for the public in the short and medium-term but equally essential to avert a bigger catastrophe. 

(The author is Research Associate, Society for Policy Studies. Views are personal)

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