Explained: What Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s US visit means for Pakistan’s relations with the West

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Pakistan’s foreign minister in Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s new “unity government”, is due to leave on a visit to the United States on Monday. The visit is expected to restore ties between the two countries, which have been in limbo for more than a year, and which hit a low point with former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s accusations that the Biden administration was behind his ouster.

Pakistan and USA

Given the stakes of the military security establishment in Pakistan’s foreign relations, the groundwork for the 33-year-old’s first official solo visit abroad as foreign minister has been done. by ISI Director General Lt. Gen. Nadeem Anjum, who was in Washington last week and held meetings. with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and CIA Chief William J Burns.

The two visits are the first high-level contact between the two sides since last September, when Pakistan’s national security adviser Moeed Yusuf and ISI chief Faiz Hameed received a cold reception during their visit to Washington following to Imran Khan’s rhetoric, especially his description of American troops. departure from Afghanistan as Afghans “breaking the chains of slavery”.

An urgent reset of ties is important from Pakistan’s perspective. The military security establishment has deep historical ties to its American counterparts. He doesn’t want to lose that. In addition, mending ties with the United States could help Pakistan regain leverage over the Taliban in Afghanistan as an interlocutor with the West.

The new civilian regime needs the help of Western-led lenders as it seeks to fix a crumbling economy. Pakistan has now found that there is no more money available from the Gulf countries. The Chinese have also been reluctant to lend more to Pakistan for fear it will not be able to repay, recently turning down a $6 billion loan for a CPEC energy project.

For the United States, the new government in Islamabad is an opportunity to return to a region from which it left in August 2021 after handing over Afghanistan to the Taliban. Concern is growing that IS-K is now established in the mix of terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, and the term “Afpak” is once again in vogue in the United States. Pakistan’s grip on the Taliban was never complete, and is less so now. But the United States believes that Pakistan could still provide essential assistance to stabilize the country, which in turn would help the United States protect its interests at a time when Washington is focused on Ukraine.

After four years without an ambassador, the United States appointed an ambassador to Islamabad in February this year. Pakistan’s controversial nomination Sardar Masood Khan took office only months ago when the Biden administration gave the go-ahead for the nomination after a four-month wait.

Come of age

Bhutto travels to New York at the invitation of Secretary of State Anthony Blinken for a meeting of foreign ministers on global food security organized by the United States and the UN in the context of the war in Ukraine, but the two are expected to hold bilateral talks on the sidelines.

As the Pakistani establishment expects the young Oxford-educated foreign minister to make an impression in Washington, this visit is also an opportunity for Bhutto, who is to lead the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in the elections. within a few months, to demonstrate to both the jiyalas (as loyal PPP workers are called) and the skeptics that he can wear the mantle of Benazir Bhutto and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Ever since Zulfikar Ali Bhutto transformed his tenures as foreign minister (under President Ayub Khan, then from 1971 to 1977) into a grand international theater suited to domestic political constituencies, the foreign ministry is where politicians ambitious hope to grow by cutting their teeth on Pakistan’s delicate civil-military equations.

Bhutto’s tenure as foreign minister comes at a time when Pakistani diplomacy, not just with the United States, but with the wider Western world, is in disarray.

Imran Khan’s untimely visit to Moscow on the day Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, his harassment of European diplomats based in Islamabad, his anger at the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia for not failed to back his condemnation of India over Kashmir, and his proposal for an alternative Islamic alliance with Turkey and Malaysia, all severed old friendships – and left the world open for Bhutto to put his stamp on, even under the tutelage of the military-civilian establishment.

Keeping the Kashmir issue alive is a litmus test for all Pakistani politicians, especially foreign ministers. Bhutto gave a boost by presenting a “policy statement” in Parliament against the J&K demarcation decision as one that would allow for demographic change, and presenting a joint resolution against India’s “efforts to undermine the status recognized internationally” by J&K. He also wrote to the UN Security Council.

Interestingly, the statements came after Pakistan decided to fill a long vacant post at the Pakistani High Commission in Delhi for a trade diplomat. This sparked criticism on social media, forcing Pakistan to clarify that there was no change in trade policy.

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The Chinese equation

Even as it strives to restore relations with the United States, Pakistan is keen not to send the wrong signals to China. Bhutto pledged not to allow anyone to harm Pakistan’s ‘ironclad friendship’ with China, and promised that the perpetrators of the suicide bombing at Karachi University, which killed three nationals Chinese and their Pakistani assistant, would be brought to justice.

According to an article in Dawn, citing a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, Prime Minister Sharif held a “comprehensive” phone call with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Monday in which he affirmed the government’s “firm resolve” to accelerating the Sino-Pakistani economic transition. Corridor projects (CPEC). “He also reiterated that Pakistan attaches the utmost importance to the safety, security and protection of all Chinese nationals working in Pakistan on economic projects and institutions…” Dawn said.

Some reports suggest that immediately after returning from his trip to the United States, Bhutto will travel to Beijing at the invitation of Wang Yi, with whom he has already had a virtual meeting.

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