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No Biden-Imran call, ‘solidarity’ with China — why Pakistan opted out of US Summit for Democracy

The decision sends a ‘strong message’ to the US about Islamabad’s objections to the lack of high-level engagement between the two countries, say experts.

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New Delhi: While China and Bangladesh remained uninvited to Washington’s Summit for Democracy, Pakistan has chosen to stay out of it despite being one of the invitees. This comes even as Islamabad continues to be upset over US President Joe Biden’s decision not to ring Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan since taking office.

The Pakistan government has chosen to give the Summit for Democracy a miss, although Islamabad said Wednesday that it was “thankful” to the US government for inviting it. 

The summit is being held for the first time on 8, 9 and 10 December, with countries participating virtually.

In an announcement, Pakistan’s Foreign Office said, “Pakistan is a large functional democracy with an independent judiciary, vibrant civil society, and a free media. We remain deeply committed to further deepening democracy, fighting corruption, and protecting and promoting human rights of all citizens. In recent years, Pakistan has instituted wide-ranging reforms aimed at advancing these goals. These reforms have yielded positive results.”

It also said, “We value our partnership with the US, which we wish to expand both bilaterally as well as in terms of regional and international cooperation. We remain in contact with the US on a range of issues and believe that we can engage on this subject at an opportune time in the future.”

“Pakistan will, meanwhile, continue to support all efforts aimed towards strengthening dialogue, constructive engagement, and international cooperation for the advancement of our shared goals,” it added.

While Islamabad didn’t explicitly and officially say it would not participate in the summit, sources in the Pakistan government told ThePrint that a final decision had been taken not to attend. 

According to another source, Islamabad is upset with the fact that Beijing has been excluded from the summit, which is seen as setting an affirmative agenda for democratic renewal and to tackle the greatest threats faced by democracies today through collective action. However, it also wants the US to “treat” Pakistan as a democratic country. 

Pakistan media also reported that the country won’t be attending the Summit due to the fact that its all-weather friend China has not been invited.


Also read: A new white paper insists China is a democracy. It wants you to forget Tiananmen


Pakistan’s ‘strong message’ to US

According to Michael Kugelman, deputy director and senior associate for South Asia at The Wilson Center, a Washington-based think tank, the Pakistan government wanted to send a “strong message” to the White House as it is upset with the level of engagement between the two countries.

“My sense is that one or two factors, or perhaps a combination of the two, explains Islamabad’s decision. One is that the Pakistani government simply decided that it wasn’t worth attending the summit, given how controversial it has become,” he said.

He also said, “The other is that Islamabad wanted to send a strong message to the White House about its unhappiness with the lack of high-level engagement with Pakistan coming from the Biden White House. The non-call between Joe Biden and Imran Khan shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s something that has rankled officials in Islamabad.

He added, “There’s also a domestic political angle here. The Pakistani public has no love for US democracy promotion, so backing out of the summit will play well at home and bring Islamabad a political boost. And that’s just what the doctor ordered for a beleaguered government struggling to fend off sky-high inflation.”

However, Kugelman believes that China is not really the factor.

“Had it wanted to help China out, it could have attended the summit to push back against the inevitable criticism that will be made about Beijing,” he said.

‘Perplexing’ US decisions

Similarly, T.C.A. Raghavan, former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, also said that the decision to skip the summit was a reflection of the overall state of US-Pakistan bilateral ties.

“President Biden has not yet made a single phone-call to Prime Minister Imran Khan, which has not gone down too well with Islamabad. Some of the rationality of the US’s decisions recently is perplexing. One can ask why Bangladesh was not invited,” said Raghavan, who is also a former director-general of the Indian Council of World Affairs.

“Of course, there is also the fact that China has not been invited to the summit. Pakistan found it prudent not to take part in it and offend Beijing,” he said.

On India’s participation in the summit, Raghavan said, “For India, it is a platform where many issues will be discussed on which we have no objection. The outcome will neither be of great significance nor do I see any great drawback in it. After all, the host country is a close friend of India.”

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)


Also read: US summit of democracy is like ‘ashwamedha yagya’, India can offer alt vision to pause China


 

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