By Mohammad Mazhari

US-Pakistan ties won’t come at cost of strategic engagement with China: expert

April 26, 2022 - 13:27

TEHRAN - Director of China Pakistan Study Centre at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad says that Pakistan will not sacrifice its good ties with China for other powers.

“This (U.S.-Pakistan relations) will not come at the cost of strategic engagement with China,” Talat Shabbir tells the Tehran Times.

“The incumbent government, led by Pakistan Muslim League (N) had good working experience with China, back to 2013-18 for commencement and timely completion of early harvest projects of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor,” Shabbir adds.

“The focus now again is on reviving that spirit and re-energizing the relationship. In this regard, the commitment of the new government and Chinese side is of greater importance to reinvigorate CPEC which is being considered a lifeline for Pakistan’s economy.”
Following is the text of the interview: 

Q: What were the real causes of Imran Khan's ouster? Had his rapprochement with China and Russia angered Washington?

A: The real reason for the ouster of Imran Khan was that he lost the confidence of 172 members in the Majlis-e-Shoora of Pakistan. His coalition partners joined opposition parties and voted against Khan because they complained the promises made to them were not fulfilled. He lost office through a democratic and constitutional process. As far as the question of foreign interference is concerned, a high-level commission is already formed by the incumbent government to investigate the matter and unearth the facts. Besides, Pakistan has consistently reiterated its commitment to avoid bloc politics and not join any camp in the global arena. Pakistan wishes to be a partner for peace with every country. 

Q: The new prime minister has emphasized that he and his party are friends of China. What are the implications of such a statement?

A; Pakistan is completely independent in making its foreign policy choices. We believe in establishing peaceful and friendly relations with all nations across the world which is also a guiding principle of our foreign policy. When it comes to China-Pakistan friendship, the two countries are enjoying an ironclad brotherhood that is based on seven decades of history. The incumbent government, led by Pakistan Muslim League (N) had good working experience with China, back to 2013-18 for the commencement and timely completion of early harvest projects of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The focus now again is on reviving that spirit and re-energizing the relationship. In this regard, the commitment of the new government and the Chinese side is of greater importance to reinvigorate CPEC which is being considered a lifeline for Pakistan’s economy. 

Q: Pakistan is well-known to bet on the U.S. more than other powers. But Imran Khan annoyed Washington. Do you think the new government would return to policies that are more aligned with America's wishes or it would return to China as a strategic partner? 

A: Pakistan wants a good working relationship with the United States. The U.S. remains Pakistan’s largest export market and home to a vibrant Pakistani diaspora. Similarly, Pakistan remains engaged with the U.S. on peace and security in the region. While perspectives and interests of both Pakistan and the U.S. on regional issues often diverge, engagement is the key. The new government will definitely work to remain engaged with the U.S. and make the relationship functional. This, however, will not come at the cost of strategic engagement with China. Engagement with both is important, and this will continue. 

Q: How do you see Pakistan-India ties in the new government?

A: As the new Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif took the oath, he was felicitated by his Indian counterpart. PM Sharif reciprocated the sentiment and called for improving relations between Pakistan and India. Progress, however, will be slow, as India would have to demonstrate good faith by reversing the illegal actions of August 5, 2019. The new government, like the previous one, will find it difficult to move forward in improving ties with India, until concerns on Kashmir are addressed by India. 

Q:  Do you think Imran Khan will return to power, given the massive support he enjoys?

A: Imran Khan and his party will be one of the major contestants in the next elections, whenever they are held. He has certainly demonstrated popular support in recent weeks. Can Imran Khan translate this support into electoral victory? This remains to be seen. If he is able to chart a coherent strategy and gain support from candidates who are influential at the grassroots, then he certainly can make a return to power, after gaining the majority in the National Assembly.  
 

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