Antony Blinken says ties with Pakistan under review over Afghanistan

Antony Blinken testified on Monday on the pullout of American troops from Afghanistan at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Taliban fighters patrol along a street in Kabul on Monday. The United States, secretary of state Antony Blinken said, is reviewing its relationship with Pakistan, which is a major non-Nato ally, in view of its role in Afghanistan over the last 20 years. (AFP)
Taliban fighters patrol along a street in Kabul on Monday. The United States, secretary of state Antony Blinken said, is reviewing its relationship with Pakistan, which is a major non-Nato ally, in view of its role in Afghanistan over the last 20 years. (AFP)
Updated on Sep 15, 2021 09:41 AM IST
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By Yashwant Raj I Edited by Amit Chanda, Hindustan Times, Washington

The United States is reviewing its relationship with Pakistan, which is a Major Non-Nato Ally (MNNA), in view of its role in Afghanistan over the last 20 years and more, which, secretary of state Antony Blinken told lawmakers at a hearing on Monday, amounted to “hedging its bets”.

Antony Blinken also delivered a very clear message to Pakistan telling it to “line up” with the broad majority of nations to force the Taliban regime to uphold the basic rights of Afghan people, including women and children; allow humanitarian assistance and form a representative government.

Watch: Was Taliban govt's Deputy PM killed by Pak-backed Haqqanis? Mullah Baradar audio emerges amid rumours 

TESTY EXCHANGES

Antony Blinken testified on Monday on the pullout of American troops from Afghanistan at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The nearly five-hour session was marked by testy exchanges with Republican lawmakers and occasional rap-on-the-knuckles from Democrats.

He goes before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.

House lawmakers grilled the secretary of state on a range of issues relating to the withdrawal - the timeline, being surprised by the collapse of the Ashraf Ghani government, the unplanned and chaotic evacuation and, leaving without ensuring every American citizen Afghan ally had been evacuated.

DUPLICITOUS PAKISTAN

Two Democratic lawmakers - Bill Keating and Joaquin Castro - brought up Pakistan. Calling Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan “duplicitous”, Keating asked if the administration was reviewing the relationship with Pakistan, its status as one of only 17 countries that the United States has designated MNNAs.

The other MNNAs are Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Korea, Kuwait, Morocco, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, and Tunisia (Taiwan gets the same treatment without the official designation).

Pakistan was added to the list in 2004 for its role in the war in Afghanistan and the hunt for the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.

Pakistan’s role is coming under increased scrutiny and criticism. Andy Biggs, a Republican member of the House of Representative and a staunch ally of former president Donald Trump, had introduced a bill in the House in January calling for ending Pakistan’s status as an MNNA.

“Given its long term support for the Taliban, is it time for the United States to reassess its relationship with Pakistan and reassess its status as a major non-Nato ally,” asked Representative Castro, who was following up a line of questioning on Pakistan opened by fellow Democrat Keating.

Secretary of state Antony Blinken replied: “For the reasons you’ve cited as well as others, this is one of the things that we’re going to be looking in the days and weeks ahead: the role that Pakistan has played over the last 20 years but also the role that we would want to see it play in the coming years, and what it will take for it to do that.”

A US secretary of State could not have been more openly scathing of Pakistan’s role at this time when Islamabad has reclaimed its pre-eminent position in Afghanistan’s present and future, and its continued influence over its creation, the Taliban. The US also needs Pakistan’s cooperation for the safe passage of its citizens, partners out of Afghanistan.

Representative Keating brought up Pakistan first at the hearing. He was troubled by the relationship with Pakistan. Recalling its role in the creation and labelling of the Taliban, he went on to nail Pakistan’s deeply entrenched interest by citing Prime Minister Imran Khan’s quote that Afghanistan had broken “the shackles of slavery” when the Taliban took back power.

“We used to always hear diplomatically that we have a complicated relationship with … Pakistan,” Keating said. “I would say it’s often duplicitous.”

Antony Blinken said he agreed with the congressman’s assessment of the role played by Pakistan over the past 20 years and even before.

It’s been one, he said, that has “involved hedging its bets constantly about the future of Afghanistan; it’s one that’s involved harbouring members of the Taliban, including the Haqqanis; it’s one that’s also involved, at different points, cooperation with us on counterterrorism”.

Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan has also been shaped by its concerns about India in that country, the secretary of state added. He did not elaborate.

INDIA’S DEVELOPMENT ROLE

India has completed more than 500 development projects in Afghanistan in the last 20 years, with footprints in all of its 34 provinces, at an estimated $3 billion. India has also been a preferred destination for Afghan people for higher studies - former president Hamid Karzai studied in India - and medical treatment. Bollywood productions are more popular there than any other places, and the best and most talented Afghan cricketers play in the top professional league in India.

Pakistan, on the other hand, is viewed by most Afghans as a sponsor and mentor of a regressive regime that denies them rights and privileges enjoyed by most Pakistanis in Pakistan.

GOING FORWARD

“We have to look at as an insistence that every country, to include Pakistan, make good on the expectations that the international community has of what is required of a Taliban-led government,” Antony Blinken said as the hearing, speaking to the relationship with Pakistan going forward.

India, the United States and other countries have said the Taliban regime can expect to get international recognition and legitimacy and financial assistance only if they can verifiably guarantee basic rights for its citizens, including women, children and minorities.

“Pakistan needs to line up with a broad majority of the international community in working towards those ends and upholding those, those expectations,” Antony Blinken said.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2021