Pakistan’s relation with US at a crossroads

When Joe Biden took oath as the 46th President of the United States, Pakistan was hoping for a new beginning in relations — often marred by mistrust and divergent interests — with the new administration at the White House.

Prior to Friday’s formal contact with the Biden administration, the government finalised a strategy to look for a reset in the relationship. On top of the agenda was to seek economic partnership with the United States instead of ties only confined to the security issues and Afghanistan.

But the plans appear to have been derailed after the Supreme Court’s verdict acquitting Ahmed Omar Shaikh and three other co-accused in the Daniel Pearl murder case.

On Friday, when US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken telephoned Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the Daniel Pearl murder case consumed most of the time during their maiden conversation, according to the readout of the State Department.

“Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Qureshi discussed how to ensure accountability for the prime accused, Ahmed Omar Saeed, Sheikh and others responsible for the kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl,” the State Department statement said.

The secretary reinforced US concern about the Pakistani Supreme Court ruling and potential release of these prisoners.

The official statement released from Washington was in total contrast to the readout put out by the Foreign Office.

The Foreign Office statement focused more on Foreign Minister Qureshi’s emphasis on the Pakistani desire to have “comprehensive partnership” with the United States.

Qureshi, as per the statement, listed economic partnership as number one priority of the government with United States.

The issue of Daniel Pearl murder only mentioned at the end of the statement, contrary to the State Department readout.

Similarly, the State Department mentioned the regional stability, and trade and commercial ties only at the end of the statement.

“In addition, the secretary and the foreign minister discussed the importance of a continued US-Pakistan cooperation on the Afghan peace process, support for regional stability, and the potential to expand our trade and commercial ties,” the State Department statement concluded.

“The US readout mentions the Pearl case first. The Pakistan readout mentions it close to the end of the conversation part. Not to overstate the importance of sequencing, but yet another example of the disconnect in this relationship,” Michael Kugelman, South Asian expert at The Wilson Centre, tweeted.

Given the high stakes, authorities in Pakistan moved swiftly to file a review petition in the Daniel Pearl murder case. The hearing is already fixed for Monday.

Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, believes that the Daniel Pearl murder case will not determine the relationship.

“This is a temporary issue as the review petition has already been filed,” he stressed.

He thinks that the relationship with the US would take a positive turn under the Biden administration compared to the Trump’s era.

The former ambassador; however, doesn’t foresee a change in US policy towards South Asia, particularly its strategic alignment with India.

And this was clearly reflected in the contrasting tweets by Secretary Tony Blinken after talking to his Indian and Pakistani counterpart.

Spoke with @SMQureshiPTI on ensuring accountability for convicted terrorist Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and others responsible for Daniel Pearl’s murder. The Foreign Minister and I underscored the importance of continued US-Pakistan cooperation in supporting regional stability,” Blinken tweeted.

But his tone and tenor, and the choice of words were markedly different when he tweeted about his conversation with the Indian external affairs minister.

“I was delighted to speak today with my good friend @DrSJaishankar to discuss US-India priorities. We reaffirmed the importance of the US-India relationship and discussed ways we can better seize new opportunities and combat shared challenges in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.”

Despite this, Foreign Minister Qureshi told reporters on Saturday that he had “good conversation” with Blinken.

(This story has been published from The Express Tribune feed, without modifications to the text)