US administration to seek ‘productive’ ties with Pakistan, says scholar

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration would like to rebuild America’s relationship with Pakistan and make it more productive than it has been during the recent past, says a senior US scholar.

At a recent briefing on the new US administration’s foreign policies, James M. Lindsay, a senior vice president at the Council for Foreign Relations, also predicted a better understanding between the White House and the Pentagon on the deployment of American troops in Afghanistan.

Since their inauguration on Jan 20, several Biden administration officials have endorsed the Pentagon’s position that Washington could not withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by May, as stipulated in the US-Taliban peace agreement signed last year.

“The Biden administration would hope to find a way to improve relations with Pakistan,” said Mr Lindsay while responding to a question at the briefing which was arranged by the US State Department’s Foreign Press Centre.

Noting that the United States had had “a longstanding relationship with Islamabad,” Mr Lindsay pointed out that during this period both sides had also developed “lots of differences and grievances”. But “I think the Biden administration would like to do what it can to make that relationship more productive,” he added.

The US scholar argued that the Biden administration had inherited a complicated US relationship with Pakistan, and some of the issues between the two countries “sort of resonant here in the United States”.

One such issue, he said, was a recent Supreme Court decision in Pakistan to overturn the conviction of Ahmed Omer Sheikh, the prime suspect in the beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl.

The US Justice Department as well as the new Secretary of State Antony Blinken have urged Pakistan to ensure that those involved in the murder do not go free. Both also offered to bring Sheikh to the United States to face a trial in this country if Pakistan is reluctant to go ahead with the proceedings.

Mr Lindsay said that the administration would also have significant concerns about human rights issues in Pakistan and they did worry about “whether or not Pakistan is doing everything it can to prevent, contain, deter terrorists”.

Another major concern for the new administration would be the relations between India and Pakistan, he added, while pointing out that “it’s the one place in the world in which two nuclear-armed countries abut one another and have tense relations”.

Mr Lindsay also listed the China-Pakistan relationship among the issues that the Biden administration would like to discuss with Pakistan’s rulers, adding: “I think there’s … concern in a Biden presidency about the nature of the evolution of Pakistan’s relations with China.”

Dawn, February 10th, 2021