During interview with U.S. publication, the NSA claimed Islamabad will ‘reconsider’ media appearances that suggest Washington is being criticized for its role in Afghanistan
National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf has suggested that Pakistan has “options” if U.S. President Joe Biden’s failure to initiate any conversation with Prime Minister Imran Khan over the ongoing Afghanistan Peace Process continues.
“The president of the United States hasn’t spoken to the prime minister of such an important country [Pakistan] who the U.S. itself says is make-or-break in some cases, in some ways, in Afghanistan—we struggle to understand the signal, right?” he told The Financial Times in an interview that was published on Tuesday. “We’ve been told every time that… [the 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, in a seeming reference to U.S. foes Russia and China though he did not elaborate further.
According to The Financial Times, the snub from Washington comes as the Taliban continue to sweep through Afghanistan, capturing territory previously controlled by the elected government in Kabul. Independent analysts have stressed that the Taliban have grown emboldened by the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, pointing to reports of increasing human rights atrocities, including the alleged execution of citizens the Taliban have accused of supporting the government.
In its defense, the Biden administration maintains that there is nothing out of the ordinary in the U.S. president not personally calling Khan. “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 quoted a Biden administration official as saying.
The U.S. State Department, however, stresses that there is no reason to believe Washington does not recognize Pakistan’s vital role in establishing peace in Afghanistan. “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, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said earlier this week. In a press briefing, he said that not only does the U.S. seek a supporting role from Pakistan, but so do its regional neighbors. “So, we’ll continue to work and to communicate closely with our Pakistani partners on this,” he added.
According to The Financial Times, a person familiar with last week’s discussions between Yusuf and his American counterpart, Jake Sullivan, claimed the conversations were “tough,” but that securing a political settlement could improve the U.S.-Pakistan relationship dramatically. “There is a lot of effort under way to try to get that [negotiated settlement] process to be a more meaningful process,” said the person. “This is a moment where, arguably, our interests really align, but it’s really up to them to see what they want to do next.”
The report noted that some in Washington believe the snub is linked to Biden seeing Khan as a “puppet” of Pakistan’s military. Yusuf rubbished this view. “There is no question of a civil-military disconnect in Pakistan. Let me be categorical: if the prime minister had not instructed me and the delegation to be here, we won’t have been here,” he said, stressing that Pakistan’s leverage over the Taliban had diminished.
To a question on how Pakistan’s desire for better ties with the U.S. squared with a recent bout of media appearances that voiced criticisms aimed at American audiences, the NSA claimed this was not the intent. He told the publication that Islamabad would “reconsider” media appearances if they were backfiring, saying the goal was “not to upset anybody [but to] put very forthrightly Pakistan’s view on the situation.”
The NSA, alongwith the prime minister and the foreign minister, have in recent weeks repeatedly claimed the U.S. “messed it up” in Afghanistan, adding that its decision to withdraw all foreign troops from the country had resulted in the Taliban feeling they had won, and no longer had any reason to listen to Pakistan.