Just a few weeks before the meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and a day after United States’ new Secretary of State took oath, Pakistan’s Supreme Court announced its verdict on an appeal application of British-born Ahmed Omar Sheikh, accused in the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

This event has now set the tone for US-Pakistan relations under the Biden administration.

The Supreme Court announced the verdict based on the proceedings. It was not a failure of the court – it was the failure of the prosecution, which failed to prove the case that Ahmed Omar Sheikh was involved in the gruesome murder of Daniel Pearl. However, one question remains unanswered: why had the government not foreseen this? 

Reaction from Daniel Pearl’s parents declared the decision a “travesty of justice. Meanwhile Biden’s White House was “outraged” on the development, and newly appointed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted saying that he was “deeply concerned.”

This is how the Biden government’s interaction with Pakistan has started.

Following this, Secretary Blinken called Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and the statements from both sides are a reflection of their respective thoughts. Pakistan’s Foreign Office in its statement said the focus was on the future bilateral relationship, Afghan peace, and Daniel Pearl.  However, the US State Department in its statement about the call maintained that the focus of the call was the Daniel Pearl issue.

“In addition, the Secretary and the Foreign Minister discussed the importance of continued US-Pakistan cooperation on the Afghan peace process, support for regional stability, and potential to expand our trade and commercial ties,” said the Foreign Office.

While Pakistan was talking about future relationship, the US was focusing on terrorism.

Those in Pakistan who have been celebrating the arrival of Biden will now learn that the Biden administration will restart using the tried and tested words: “do more.” It was the Democrat government under President Obama that kept reciting the “do more” mantra despite knowing that Pakistan was fighting insurgents inside the country and those sponsored from outside, with its military and civilians losing lives in ceaseless attacks. It was the Obama administration that had intensified drone attacks in the tribal areas which killed many militants, but which also took the lives of many more innocents. 

Once again, we can expect the US President and Secretary of State to start talking to Pakistan in the frame of the War on Terror and Afghanistan. Blinken has already announced that the new administration will be reviewing the Afghan peace deal – which makes past progress in the bilateral relationship questionable.  

Interestingly, the new US government will be dealing with a government led by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI); a first for the Democrats. Prime Minister Imran Khan as the leader of PTI has been extremely critical of the US policies in Afghanistan. He has led protests on the street of Pakistan against drone attacks on multiple occasions. In those times, Secretary of State Tony Blinken was serving the Obama administration in the capacity of first Deputy National Security Advisor (2013-2015) and later as Deputy Secretary of State (2015-2017).

Blinken has already told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that the US is reviewing the peace accord, while the Pentagon has announced that implementation of the accord at this stage will be difficult. The Pentagon went further and said US forces’ withdrawal deadlines would be hard to meet in the current scenario as the Taliban, in their view, are not implementing the peace accord.

The timing of the verdict couldn’t have been more unfortunate for Pakistan, as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) will be reviewing its case on February 21. Pakistan will be in the grey list till the next month, and the FATF meeting on February 20 will decide whether Pakistan should be placed in the so-called white list or black list. Although Pakistan is confident that it would not be placed in the black list, but moving to white list is still an significant task as India – an effective member of the FATF – with the support of the USA and other countries is putting pressure on Pakistan to do more.

In this backdrop, the timing of the verdict of Daniel Pearl’s case has created conflict with the US at a crucial time. India will exert more pressure on FATF and the Biden administration would not have much room but to stick to the demand of “do more.”

Pakistan and the US relations are now on a bumpy road where the Biden administration will try to put Pakistan in a defensive position by bringing old files on the table. Pakistan, on the other hand, would get closer to China and its emerging friend, Russia, to let the US know that times have changed.


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