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Pakistan ‘not interested’ in picking sides between US, China: Khar

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Amidst the growing global rivalry between the US and China, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar has said that Pakistan is not interested in picking sides between the two powers since it has always been on good terms with both.  

Instead, Khar talking to a European news outlet POLITICO insisted that Islamabad was apprehensive about the fallout of an all-out rupture between the US and China. 

In such an instance, Pakistan would face an unfavourable strategic choice.

“We are highly threatened by this notion of splitting the world into two blocs,” Khar said.

She further said that the country is very concerned about this decoupling or anything that splits the world further.

“We have a history of being in a close, collaborative mode with the US We have no intention of leaving that. Pakistan also has the reality of being in a close, collaborative mode with China, and until China suddenly came to everyone’s threat perception, that was always the case.”

Front-line states closely watch Pakistan in the contest for strategic influence in Asia.

Over the years, as Washington’s cooperation with India has increased, Pakistan has gotten closer to China — especially after the latter’s investment in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

However, Washington is still a significant military partner for Pakistan, while Beijing has recently pledged to deepen economic investment and military cooperation with the country.

In April this year, Khar made headlines when the Washington Post leaked records — termed Discord Leaks — of a discussion between her and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

Per the leaked documents, Khar said that Pakistan should avoid appeasing the West and that its desire to maintain a strategic partnership with the US would sacrifice the full benefits of its original strategic partnership with the long-term friendly nation China.

While Khar refused to comment on that leak during the interview with POLITICO, she said the US was “unnecessarily” fearful and defensive about being toppled from its plinth of global leadership.

She argued that Pakistan’s partnership with the US remained vital in healthcare, technology, trade and combating climate change.

“I don’t think the leadership role is being contested, until they start making other people question it by being reactive,” she said.

“I believe that the West underestimates the value of its ideals, soft power,” she added, stressing Washington’s role as the world’s standard setter.

She further added that China’s most significant selling point for Pakistan was an economic model for lifting a vast population out of poverty.

Kabul question

However, during the interview, Khar maintained that Washington’s policy on Afghanistan — intended to weaken the Taliban were backfiring — were causing a humanitarian and security crisis, pushing many Afghans to “criminal activities, narcotics strategy and smuggling.”

She further added that then-prime minister Imran Khan had reacted “rather immaturely” when Afghan Taliban seized power in Kabul in 2021.

“Khar said Islamabad was taking a highly diplomatic approach in seeking to win round the Taliban in Afghanistan, pursuing political engagement and focusing on economic development — rather than strong-arm tactics,” POLITICO reported.

Furthermore, she rejected the idea that any other country could play a role in helping Pakistan defeat the Taliban with military deployments.

“When it comes to boots on the ground, we would welcome no one,” she said.

Regarding the stalled bailout programme from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Khar was asked if she reckoned Washington was holding back on supporting Pakistan, partly to test whether China would step up and play a bigger role in ensuring the country’s stability.

The secretary of state replied: “I would be very unhappy if that were the case.”

‘Tread carefully’

Moreover, in her interview, Khar was wary about Europe’s role in the Indo-Pacific region and the naval dimensions of EU plans — especially to any vision of an Indo-Pacific strategy dedicated to trying to contain Chinese power in tandem with working with India.

Khar said Europe should tread carefully in calibrating its plan for the region, POLITICO said.

“I would be very concerned if it is exclusively or predominantly a military-based strategy, which will then confirm it is a containment strategy, it must not be a containment strategy,” she said of the EU’s Indo-Pacific agenda.

“[If it’s] a containment strategy of a certain country, which then courts a certain country that is a very belligerent neighbor to Pakistan, then instead of stabilizing the region, it is endangering the region.” 

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