Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has said the United States is willing to provide Pakistan funds to enhance border security for preventing cross-border attacks from Afghanistan.
Responding to queries from Dawn, the foreign minister said that during his visit to the US Congress last week, two senior senators — Bob Menendez from New Jersey and Lindsey Graham from South Carolina — told him that they were provided “funding in the 2023 budget to help us with border security”.
Senator Menendez chairs the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations while Senator Graham, a senior Republican, heads the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Bilawal said, while emphasising the strong standing of the two lawmakers.
Responding to a question about the US offer of help to improve relations with India, Bilawal said: “They never brought up India other than in public statements.”
At a news briefing in Washington on Dec 19, US State Department’s Spokesperson Ned Price noted Afghanistan-based terrorist groups like the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan have recently increased attacks on Pakistani targets and offered help to Islamabad to deal with the “increasingly dangerous threat”.
“We have partnered with our Pakistani friends to help them take on this challenge. We stand ready to assist, whether with this unfolding situation or more broadly,” Mr Price said.
During the foreign minister’s visit to the UN headquarters in New York last week, both India and Pakistan engaged in war of words over occupied Kashmir and other issues. Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar called Pakistan “the hub of terrorism” that “hosted Osama bin Laden”.
In his riposte, Bilawal reminded that India Prime Minister Narendra Modi was once called “the butcher of Gujarat” and that while bin Laden was dead “Mr Modi lives and is India’s prime minister”.
Asked to comment on these statements, Mr Price underlined “the indispensability of maintaining valuable partnerships” with both India and Pakistan.
“The fact that we have partnerships with both countries leaves us not wanting to see a war of words between India and Pakistan,” he said.
“We would like to see constructive dialogue between them. The United States stands ready to assist as a partner to both.”
But the foreign minister’s response to Dawn made it clear that while the US wanted good relations between the two South Asian neighbours, it appears keener to cooperate with Islamabad in combating terrorist attacks from Afghanistan.
This also reflects in the omnibus bill that Congress passed on Friday, setting aside $200 million for promoting gender equality in Pakistan and also emphasising the need to combat terrorism.
The bill doesn’t mention a specific amount for combating terrorism, but it does say that funds appropriated under the heading “Foreign Military Financing Program” can be “made available only to support counterterrorism and counterinsurgency capabilities in Pakistan.”
It also noted the funds appropriated for “International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement” shall be made available for border security programmes in Pakistan.”
Commenting on the US offers, former ambassador Touqir Hussain, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, told Dawn that defeating terrorism was a shared goal of both countries.
“So, the US cannot only ask for Pakistan’s help without offering its own help. It is a shared challenge which neither can address alone.”
Mr Hussain noted the public statement of support for Pakistan was “obviously a part of the ongoing US efforts to rehabilitate [its ]image in the country.”
He said the offer to assist India and Pakistan in resolving their differences, was “important not so much for its practical value – in the resolution of India Pakistan differences, which is not much as India would not accept outside involvement – but the context in which this offer is made.”
“The language with which the respective relations with India and Pakistan have been described is clearly meant to convey a shift away from the US’ South Asia policy of recent years resting on the centrality of India,” the former ambassador pointed out.
In the statement, Mr. Price spoke of a “global strategic partnership with India” and a “deep partnership … with Pakistan.”
“Each of them is indispensable to us,” said the spokesperson.
He added that “the promotion and the pursuit of shared goals” with India and Pakistan were equally important to the US.