Washington ready to
work with new Pakistan
government regardless
of political party

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ISLAMABAD: The US Department of State Spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Friday Washington would work with any new government that came into power in Pakistan after this week’s election, regardless of which political party led the new administration.

Ties between Islamabad and Washington, once close allies, have just started to warm after some years of frosty relations, mostly due to concerns about Pakistan’s alleged support of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Relations strained further under the government of former prime minister Imran Khan, who ruled from 2018-22 and antagonized Washington by welcoming the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021 and later accusing the US of being behind attempts to oust him. Washington has dismissed the allegations.

US Department of State Spokesperson Matthew Miller
US Department of State Spokesperson Matthew Miller

The government of PM Shehbaz Sharif that took over after Khan and whose term ended last year tried to mend ties but analysts widely believe the United States will not seek a significant broadening of ties with Islamabad in the near future but remain mostly focused on security cooperation, especially on counterterrorism and Afghanistan.

In the run-up to Feb. 8 elections, the US had repeatedly declined to comment on who it wanted to see in government, saying this was for the Pakistani people to decide.  “The United States is prepared to work with the next Pakistani government, regardless of political party, to advance our shared interests,” Miller said in a statement.  “We look forward to bolstering our partnership by supporting Pakistan’s economy through trade and investment.”

Miller said the US would continue to support Pakistan in strengthening its democratic institutions, engage with the South Asian nation through the US-Pakistan Green Alliance Framework, broaden people-to-people ties, and promote human rights, including freedom of expression.

“We are also committed to strengthening our security cooperation and creating an environment of safety and security that affords the Pakistani people the peace, democracy, and progress they deserve,” Miller said.

US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel
US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel

He commended millions of Pakistanis who made their voices heard by voting in elections, with record numbers of Pakistani women, members of religious and ethnic minority groups, and youth registered:

“We commend Pakistani poll workers, civil society, journalists and election observers for their work to protect and uphold Pakistan’s democratic and electoral institutions. We now look forward to timely, complete results that reflect the will of the Pakistani people.”

Islamabad has long called for a broadening of ties with Washington beyond just security concerns and hopes to boost bilateral trade in goods and services, which the Pakistani embassy says totals about $12 billion currently.

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Meanwhile, the US State Department on Thursday expressed concern over election-related violence and restrictions on internet and cellular access in Pakistan on the polling day.

At a daily news briefing, Vedant Patel, the principal deputy spokesperson, also underscored the importance of a transparent and unrestricted electoral process.

When asked if the United States would accept the results of a tainted election, Mr Patel said: “We are going to continue to monitor the electoral process. We are not going to get ahead of any official results. And we want to see a process that took place in a way that allowed for broad participation, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.”

Noting that internet and mobile phone access was restricted across Pakistan on the election day, he acknowledged that “there were some clear restrictions on the exercise of freedom that took place, and those, of course, are concerning”.

Mr Patel began his remarks by acknowledging that millions of Pakistanis went to the polls, sating: “I would reiterate that Pakistan’s future leadership is for the Pakistanis to decide, and our interest continues to be in the democratic process.”

Underlining the importance of a peaceful electoral process, he said: “We strongly condemn all instances of election-related violence, both in the weeks preceding elections as well as those that transpired on the election day.”

He noted that the violence affected a broad range of political parties across Pakistan and impacted polling stations and election officers.

Responding to a question about restrictions placed on freedom of expression during the entire electoral process, he said: “We are tracking reports of restrictions on internet and cellphone access across Pakistan on polling day. And we, along with the international community, will continue to emphasise the importance of democratic institutions and free press, vibrant civil society, and the expanded opportunities for political participation of all of Pakistan’s citizens.”