In an unprecedented move, Islamabad turned down Washington’s invitation to participate in the democracy summit being held from December 9 to 10. The summit was convened by US President Joe Biden and leaders of over 100 countries were invited with Pakistan being among the only four South Asian countries. The invitation from the US was being seen as an icebreaker in the brewing tensions between the two traditional allies as President Biden is yet to speak to Prime Minister Imran Khan since the former assumed office earlier this year. But Islamabad decision to skip the moot can entail serious implications in the already strained relationship, especially considering Pakistan’s relations with China.
It must be noted that China and Russia were not invited, while Taiwan was extended the invitation. A move that has not sat well with Beijing, particularly because it comes right after the heads of the countries held a virtual summit to try to halt the dangerous downward spiral toward conflict. The US and China are involved in what many are dubbing as a new cold war and by skipping the summit, Islamabad seems to be choosing sides. This despite the fact that just a day after the Foreign Office announced its decision to skip the democracy summit, PM Imran said that Pakistan did not want to be a part of any bloc in this currently forming cold war. In fact, National Security Adviser Dr. Moeed Yusuf in his interview with BBC also said that Pakistan has a critical strategic relationship with China “but not at the cost of any other country”. Islamabad seems to be giving mixed signals to the world, especially to the US.
In this new phase of the US and China relationship, Pakistan has unfortunately found itself in a tough position. Beijing has time and again shown its support for Islamabad, while Washington is still implying the ‘do more’ pressure tactic for Pakistan to hear from the White House. It is this pressure that has inadvertently pushed Islamabad in the China orbit. And Pakistan’s loud and clear message of US failure in Afghanistan with the Taliban takeover is further complicating the relationship between the two countries. However, Islamabad must realise that to achieve its geo-economic goals it needs the backing of the US and the West. While it is wise to not choose sides, the country’s GSP+ status, the IMF revival and getting out of the FATF grey-list are all dependent on one side. We must learn to tread cleverly.