WASHINGTON: Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf has said that Pakistan has other options if US President Joe Biden continues to ignore the country’s leadership.
“The president of the United States hasn’t spoken to the prime minister of such an important country who the US itself says is make-or-break in some cases, in some ways, in Afghanistan — we struggle to understand the signal, right?” Mr Yusuf told ‘The Financial Times’ in an interview.
“We’ve been told every time that… [the phone call] will happen, it’s technical reasons or whatever. But frankly, people don’t believe it,” he said. “If a phone call is a concession, if a security relationship is a concession, Pakistan has options,” he added, refusing to elaborate.
The US State Department, however, has assured Islamabad that Washington recognises Pakistan’s vital role in restoring peace in Afghanistan and wants the country to play that role. “Pakistan has much to gain and will continue to have a critical role, be well-positioned to have a role in supporting the outcome” in Afghanistan, said US State Department’s spokesman Ned Price.
Briefing journalists in Washington on Monday, Mr Price said that “not only the United States seeks, but that many of our international partners, many of the countries in the region also seek” this supporting role from Pakistan. “So, we’ll continue to work and to communicate closely with our Pakistani partners on this,” he added.
But the Financial Times reported on Tuesday that in an interview to its correspondent in Washington, Mr Yusuf complained about President Biden’s failure to contact Prime Minister Imran Khan as Washington sought help to stop the Taliban taking over. “The cold shoulder from Washington comes as the Taliban has captured swaths of territory across Afghanistan in a ruthless offensive emboldened by the US pullout,” the report added.
The newspaper noted that while Mr Yusuf did not elaborate on his options, “Pakistan has cultivated deep ties with its ‘iron brother’ China, which has invested billions in infrastructure projects as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.”
A Biden administration official told FT: “There are still a number of world leaders President Biden has not been able to speak with personally yet. He looks forward to speaking with Prime Minister Khan when the time is right.”
The report pointed out that the diplomatic affront was the latest setback in US-Pakistan relations after their cooperation during the war on terrorism following the 9/11 attack on the twin towers by Al Qaeda.
Under the Trump administration, the US severed $2 billion in security assistance to Pakistan after Donald Trump accused his ally of “nothing but lies & deceit”. After Trump made a deal with the Taliban that relied on help from Pakistan, however, he invited Mr Khan to the White House.
A person familiar with last week’s discussions between Mr Yusuf and his American counterpart Jake Sullivan told FT: “The conversation about Afghanistan had been tough but that securing a political settlement … could help improve the US-Pakistan relationship dramatically.”
Moeed Yusuf said that Islamabad was struggling to “understand the signal” being sent by the lack of communication. Yusuf’s comments come amid increasing violence in neighbouring Afghanistan, where the Taliban have stepped up attacks ahead of a complete withdrawal of US forces from the war-battered country.
Washington is seeking Pakistan’s help to stop the Taliban taking over Afghanistan by force. The insurgent group has already captured swaths of territory across Afghanistan, with the government of Afghan president Ashraf Ghani openly accusing Pakistan of supporting the Taliban to secure its strategic interests in the region. Islamabad denies the accusations.
Washington has relied on Pakistan in the past to help bring senior Taliban leaders to the negotiating table and secure a deal to exit the country with few attacks on US soldiers. But despite calls from Khan to broaden US-Pakistan relations beyond Afghanistan, Biden has yet to call him since taking office this year.
“The president of the United States hasn’t spoken to the prime minister of such an important country who the US itself says is make-or-break in some cases, in some ways, in Afghanistan — we struggle to understand the signal, right?” Yusuf, Pakistan’s national security adviser said. “We’ve been told every time that . . . [the phone call] will happen, it’s technical reasons or whatever. But frankly, people don’t believe it,” Yusuf added. “If a phone call is a concession, if a security relationship is a concession, Pakistan has options.”
A senior Biden administration official who was not named by the FT said: “There are still a number of world leaders President Biden has not been able to speak with personally yet. He looks forward to speaking with Prime Minister Khan when the time is right.”
Moeed Yusuf travelled to Washington as part of a delegation including the head of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency to discuss the Afghan crisis.
The perceived diplomatic affront the national security adviser spoke of marks the latest setback in US-Pakistan relations after the two nations’ cooperation during the ‘war on terror’ following the 9/11 attacks by Al-Qaeda, the militant group founded by Osama bin Laden.
In 2004, the US named Pakistan an official major non-Nato ally, spurred by Washington’s need for support to fight in Afghanistan. But US administrations have since regularly accused their ally of harboring Taliban insurgents, claims denied by Pakistan.
Under President Donald Trump’s administration, the US severed $2 billion in security assistance to Pakistan, with the then-president accusing Islamabad of “nothing but lies and deceit”. But after Trump made a deal with the Afghan Taliban that relied on help from Pakistan, he invited Khan to the White House.