Joining China camp to invite ‘US wrath’, parliament told

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ISLAMABAD:

Pakistan may invite the “wrath of the US and its allies” if it completely joins the China camp, according to the country’s policymakers, who shared their assessment with the members of parliament last week in a closed-door briefing on the national security issues.

The lawmakers were informed that Pakistan had to maintain a “balance” in ties with the US and China.

However, Islamabad’s efforts to seek that balance seem to have not worked so far as the parliament was told that the relationship with the US might further deteriorate in the wake of recent developments, particularly the chaotic exit of the US security forces from Afghanistan.

“The ties with the US at the moment are at the lowest ebb,” a member of the parliament, who requested not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, quoted a senior figure as saying.

Read more: What’s next for Pakistan and the US?

Pakistan has longstanding ties with China and those close ties in the past helped Islamabad act as a bridge between Washington and Beijing. But at the time China was nowhere close to challenging the US as sole superpower. With China inching closer to matching the US on all fronts, there have been visible signs of what observers see as a new cold war.

Against this backdrop, Pakistan faces a daunting task to maintain a balance in its ties. On one hand, China, which stood by Pakistan in difficult times and has emerged as a major investor but on the other Islamabad has to take into account the US’s huge leverage over the international financial and other institutions.

The parliament was told that while China is Pakistan’s long-standing “friend and ally”, the US still holds the key in terms of IMF and FATF. Therefore, Pakistan is striving for maintaining a balance.

According to the Pakistani assessment, the US could screw Pakistan through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and other means.

The prospects of any positive development on the Pakistan-US ties are grim. “Sanctions are least likely but coercion through IMF and FATF is highly likely,” according to the assessment of Pakistani policymakers. The US could also resort to putting curbs on Pakistani exports, it was feared.

Also read: Biden picks career diplomat as Pakistan envoy

Pakistan is already struggling to revive the $6 billion bailout programme because of the stringent conditions the IMF wants the country to first fulfil. Similarly, despite the substantive programme on the action plan, the FATF has kept Pakistan on the “grey list”.

The policymakers fear that the US Congress could move new legislation, penalising Pakistan for its role in Afghanistan.

Relations between Pakistan and the US have been transactional despite at one point the country was dubbed as “most allied ally of the US”.

But as the US withdrew from Afghanistan and its priorities have changed, it is once again looking to abandon Pakistan.

Last month, when US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited both Pakistan and India, she had said that Washington had “no interest” in going back to the days hyphenating India and Pakistan and that her trip to Islamabad was only for “specific and narrow purpose”.

Sherman, who was speaking at an event in Mumbai during the last day of her two-day visit to India, also said that her Pakistan visit was for a “particular set of reasons” and not meant to once again rebuild a broader relationship with the country.

A western diplomat, while speaking on condition of anonymity, said some of the statements made by Prime Minister Imran Khan after the US exit from Afghanistan did not help Pakistan’s cause. “It sent the wrong message to the US. There was no need to put salt on the wounds,” remarked the diplomat.

But despite those observations and shift in the US approach, Pakistan is still pushing for a cooperative relationship with the US.





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