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Bilawal rejects Imran’s allegations, rebuilds ties with West

Says ex-PM doing whatever he can to adopt maximalist extremist positions, whip up anti-American sentiment

Pakistan’s newly-appointed foreign minister on Wednesday rejected claims by former prime minister Imran Khan that the United States had plotted his downfall.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari told Reuters that Khan’s ouster last month was in fact a milestone for Pakistani democracy. “Pakistan has a history of prime ministers who have been removed undemocratically,

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unconstitutionally through various means,” Bhutto Zardari said in an interview on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alpine resort of Davos.

“We’ve had a prime minister who was removed and hanged!” Bhutto Zardari said with reference to his grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

While Davos has been dominated by fears around trade blocs and more siloed nations, Bhutto Zardari said multilateral cooperation with neighbouring countries and the West is the way forward for Pakistan.

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That has opened his government to attacks from Khan and his supporters. Khan accuses Washington of conspiring with his political opposition to oust him because of his independent foreign policy, which included a trip to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. Washington denies Khan’s allegation, which has also been dismissed by Pakistan’s powerful military.

“He’s doing whatever he can to adopt maximalist extremist positions, whip up anti-American sentiment and draw parallels to the Taliban’s struggle in Afghanistan to undermine this space for this democratic transition,” Bhutto Zardari said.

Bhutto Zardari has already met with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and arrived in Davos fresh from a trip to China. He said he envisaged a role for Pakistan in bridging the gap between the two nations. “The initiation of diplomatic relations between China and the United States has a history that’s connected to my party and my country,” he told Reuters. “My grandfather played a role at the time of Henry Kissinger and Nixon in facilitating the early communications between the two countries.”

“I am lucky and fortunate that I have such an illustrious legacy, such imposing historical figures in my own family to look up to, and who still guide me and drive me in the way that their mission, their ideology, their manifestos are my driving force,” he said. “I was born in 1988, so the fall of the Berlin Wall and at a time when we were going to see the end of history and the international institutions like the United Nations were going to come together. And unfortunately, we have really been shortchanged.”

In a country where 64% of the population are under 30, according to a 2018 U.N. estimate, he says he believes it is “about time” someone of his age was represented in government. “We will grow up in the world that is affected by the climate crisis in a way the generation before us cannot understand and cannot appreciate. We will be paying the debts that they incur, and that’ll be a liability on our progress.”

Addressing Pakistan’s business community at Davos, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari noted Pakistan’s “immense business potential” on Wednesday, while noting that this was the case despite the various challenges the country faced both on the global as well as domestic fronts.

He said that Pakistan faced “existential threats”, some of which were shared by the global community, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, while others were specific to the country’s domestic context. Of the latter, he particularly highlighted the “severe economic consequences” the country suffered subtly pointing to the former PTI government’s policies.

He also added that just like in Afghanistan, ultimately the solution for the Ukraine conflict will have to come through diplomacy as he encouraged the international community to engage in dialogue.

Earlier, FM Bilawal Bhutto and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretary General Dr Nayef Falah M Al-Hajraf agreed to explore further avenues to enhance bilateral trade and economic ties.

Bilawal met the GCC secretary general on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, where the status of Pakistan’s cooperation with GCC member states was reviewed. It was also agreed to strengthen institutional linkages, in line with the Joint Action Plan for Strategic Dialogue. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar and Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman were also present during the meeting.

Recalling historical linkages, geographical proximity and cultural affinities between Pakistan and the GCC, the foreign minister underscored that Pakistan attached high importance to its fraternal relations with member states of the GCC, both bilaterally and in the context of the GCC. With regards to the Pakistan-GCC Free Trade Agreement (FTA), the two sides expressed determination to conclude the negotiations at the earliest.

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