WASHINGTON: Amidst reports of Pak-US differences and speculations,
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby has said the United States had a “healthy military-to-military relationship with Pakistani armed forces”, adding that “we have every expectation that will be able to continue to be the case”.
The comments from the senior Pentagon official come two days after Shehbaz Sharif was elected as the prime minister of Pakistan, replacing Imran Khan who was ousted last week through a parliament vote.
In a press briefing on Tuesday, Kirby said the US had shared interests with Pakistan with respect to security and stability in “that part of the world”.
“We recognise that Pakistan plays a key role in the region. We recognise that Pakistan and the Pakistani people are, themselves, victims of terrorist attacks inside their own country,” he added.
In response to a question about election of Shehbaz Sharif as the prime minister and allegations of the ousted premier Imran Khan against the US for its role in regime change, Kirby declined to offer a comment.
“I think you can understand that we’re not going to comment about domestic politics inside Pakistan,” he responded.
When asked whether the US was prepared in case Pakistan’s military intervenes amid street protests organised by former prime minister Imran Khan “with his very large crowd of supporters”, Kirby said he did not foresee any US military role there. “And I’m certainly not going to, again, wade into internal domestic politics in Pakistan,” he said.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had earlier said that a democratic Pakistan was critical to US interests. Ties between Islamabad and Washington touched a new low after former prime minister Imran Khan accused the US of conspiring to dislodge his government. He based his allegation on a diplomatic cable in which it was reportedly said that a State Department official had warned of consequences for bilateral ties if the no-confidence motion failed. Washington has denied the allegation. Mending fences with the US would be one of the top foreign policy priorities for the new government.
US says ‘important security relationship’
with Pakistan to continue under new Premier
The United States said on Monday it had a “strong and abiding” relationship with Pakistan, especially in the security domain, which would continue under the new leadership of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
Sharif was sworn-in as the country’s new prime minister on Monday following a week-long constitutional crisis that reached a climax on Sunday when Imran Khan was ousted as premier in a no-confidence vote in parliament.
Over the last few weeks, Khan has said the move to remove him was an attempt at regime change backed by the United States. The White House and State Department have repeatedly denied the US had sought to remove Khan.
At a press briefing on Monday, White House Secretary Jen Psaki said she did not have “a prediction of a call at this point in time,” when asked if President Joe Biden would telephone the new Pakistani PM. However, she added:
“We have a long, strong and abiding relationship with Pakistan, an important security relationship and that will continue under new leaders.”
Sharif said in an interview last week good relations with the US were critical for Pakistan “for better or for worse,” in stark contrast to Khan’s prickly ties to Washington.
In his maiden speech as PM he said Pakistan had a long history of bilateral relations with the US “which have seen ups and downs. So, does this mean we spoil ties? I think we shouldn’t,” he told the house. “We should maintain our ties with America on a principle of equality.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that a democratic Pakistan is critical to the interests of the United States. She said: “We support the peaceful upholding of constitutional democratic principles, we don’t support one political party over another.”
The White House press secretary said the United States “certainly” supports the principles of rule of law and equal justice under the law.
Will Biden call Shehbaz?
Psaki added that the US values its long-standing cooperation with Pakistan and has always viewed a prosperous and democratic Pakistan as critical to US interests — that remains unchanged regardless of who the leadership is.
In response to a question about whether Biden would call Shehbaz, Psaki said: “In terms of future calls, I don’t have anything to predict at this point and time, obviously, we stay in close touch with them at a range of levels.”
Since Biden assumed the US president’s office in 2021, Imran Khan and Biden did not hold a telephonic conversation.
Prime Minister House
In Islamabad, the Prime Minister’s Office said Tuesday the new government wishes to constructively and positively engage with the United States to promote shared goals of peace, security, and development in the region.
“We welcome US reaffirmation of long-standing ties with Pakistan,” the PM’s Office said in response to comments made by the White House on the assumption of office by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
The statement added that Pakistan looks forward to deepening its “important relationship” with the United States based on the principles of equality, mutual interest, and mutual benefit.