Pakistan-US to hold ministerial-level talks in Washington

WASHINGTON: Pakistan and the United States will hold ministerial-level talks in Washington on Monday (today), indicating willingness on part of both sides to resume institutionalised engagement after a long absence.

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari reached Washington on Sunday on a three-day visit during which he will hold in person talks with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

He will also have a separate meeting with State Department’s Special Rep­re­sentative for Commercial and Business Affairs Dilawar Syed, reflecting a mutual desire to deepen trade ties between the two old allies. He is also meeting key Cong­ressional leaders on the Hill.

Officially, both sides have only forwarded a generic description of the talks, saying meetings would “highlight flood relief efforts in Pakistan and commemorate 75 years of bilateral relations”.

State Department’s counselor Derek Chollet acknowledged that the United States wanted to maintain friendly ties with Pakistan and was even ready to compete with China to do so.

But he also said that in doing so, the Biden administration does not want Islamabad to choose between Beijing and Washington, rather it wants countries “to be able to have a choice”. The United States, he said, was not “afraid of competing with China, but we would like to have a fair competition”.

This clearly illustrates a sketch of the relationship Washington wants with Islamabad, a close ally, which can maintain its special relationship with China without allowing it to affect its ties with the United States.

But the issue that’s going to dominate the talks is the one that was not even there when these talks were planned: this year’s unprecedented floods that have brought Pakistan close to an economic meltdown.

Pakistan is seeking, but not getting, international assistance that matches the scale of the disaster that befell the country this summer.