US State Department spokesman Ned Price could not have chosen a better word to reflect administrations’ weariness Joe Biden with Pakistan. Asked about Islamabads’ about-face over sugar and cotton imports from India, Price said the United States continued to encourage the two countries to resolve their issues through direct dialogue. In fact, he could have just shrugged his shoulders.
The Pakistans, who steadily diminish fairness with the United States, may have bottomed out with the Biden administration. For the first time in more than two decades, Pakistan is not a foreign policy priority for a new US administration, two former Obama administration officials acknowledged in a recent and sympathetic article, calling for a reset of ties with the United States. Pakistan. And that might be a good thing to keep in the background as New Delhi responds to Pakistani Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwas’ call to bury the past and move forward.
Read also | The long, rocky and uncertain history of peacemaking between India and Pakistan
Former President Donald Trump wanted to mediate and made it known on several occasions, to the irritation of New Delhis. But Biden is apparently not interested, and his administration played no role in the latest attempt at peace on the subcontinent, according to several people familiar with the developments.
Biden has shown no interest in engaging Pakistan. He has yet to speak to Prime Minister Imran Khan, more than two months after taking office. And this is despite a direct request from Islamabad. The US president also failed to invite Khan to his virtual climate summit later this month. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina are among 40 world leaders who will be in attendance.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi, but the conversation was very different from how early calls tend to be. It was an uncomfortable call regarding the release of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a man convicted of kidnapping and murdering American journalist Daniel Pearl. Some in Islamabad wonder if the release of the sheikhs ordered by the Supreme Court just a week after Bidens’ inauguration in January is the source of the current cold. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke by phone with General Bajwa during his trips to the region, but he did not stop for a visit. He traveled to India and then skipped Pakistan for an unannounced visit to Afghanistan.
Pakistani allies in Washington have meanwhile tried to get the attention of the Biden administration and interest it in re-establishing ties with the then ally. One called for a strengthened US-Pakistan relationship focused on economic and cultural interests. Another also called for economic ties as a new goal, but sought a light government touch, in other words, help from the US government.
There is no indication that the Biden administration that the National Security Council is leading the engagement in South Asia at this time in the absence of Senate-confirmed deputy secretaries to lead the relevant state offices and agencies. Defense departments are interested in a reset. Bajwas’s peace offer, as one US observer put it, could be a move to impress Biden, win a reprieve, and get something that looks like a reset. And no more.
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