‘Engagement with mutual respect’

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US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s congratulatory phone call to Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto seems to have broken the ice quite nicely and pressed the reset button on Pak-US relations. Things first plunged into uncertainty as the Biden administration did not have much time for Islamabad. But then, with former PM Imran Khan’s allegations of conspiracy, regime change, etc, there were risks of the relationship going into a more serious kind of a freeze. But the new administration seems to have played its cards pretty well so far and the new foreign minister has got off to a pretty impressive start.

This government might not have a full, or even half, term in office. But it has the very important task of sorting out some of the strains that have developed in some of our more important foreign relations. It’s very obvious why we need to be on good terms with Washington. The primary reason is our economic vulnerability. Even now, with the IMF program suspended, there’s no telling what we’ll need to do to revive donor confidence and get leading international financial institutions to commit resources to us; without which we could well tumble into default.

That’s why there’s very little logic in angering the superpower for domestic political purposes and that too when the accusation stands on very flimsy evidence. The economy is on a very slippery slope. If the right measures are not initiated right now then we might really struggle to get enough funds to meet our immediate debt and interest payments. And all that is required is the right kind of engagement. Bilawal is right to stress ‘mutual respect’ and Washington would do well to appreciate such things.

Sooner or later, though, the question of condemning Moscow’s actions, which Islamabad has chosen not to do so far, will come under discussion. And that’s when Bilawal’s mettle will really be tested. *

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