Blinken, Bilawal discuss Pakistan’s economic recovery, Afghanistan-related issues

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right) meets with Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari at United Nations headquarters in New York on May 18, 2022. — AFP

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari spoke about Pakistan’s economy and Afghanistan-related issues on Monday.

According to State Department’s spokesperson Matthew Miller, Secretary Blinken reaffirmed a “productive US-Pakistan partnership” in a phone conversation with FM Bilawal.

Pakistan has been facing rising cross-border terrorism, with local authorities blaming Kabul for harbouring terrorists — especially the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

The secretary noted the Pakistani people have suffered tremendously from terrorist attacks and affirmed the United States’ commitment to continued partnership with Pakistan on counterterrorism.

The secretary and foreign minister also discussed the destabilising effects of Russia’s war against Ukraine as well as the United States and Pakistan’s shared interest in a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.

The call came hours after US Central Command (Centcom) chief, General Michael Erik Kurilla, discussed the regional security situation with Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Asim Munir during a meeting in Rawalpindi.

Apart from the regional security situation, matters of mutual interest and defence cooperation were also discussed, the military’s media wing mentioned in a statement.

Both nations — Pakistan and US — have called on war-torn Afghanistan to ensure that its soil isn’t used as a safe haven by terrorists.

The US had last week reiterated that the Afghan Taliban must ensure that their country isn’t used for terror attacks, while the Pakistan Army’s top brass said that sanctuaries and liberty of action available to terrorists of proscribed TTP and other groups of that ilk in Afghanistan is one of the major reasons impacting the security of Islamabad.

United States ‘top priority’

During the call with FM Bilawal, Secretary Blinken underscored the United States steadfast commitment to the people of Pakistan, highlighting that the economic success of Pakistan remains a top priority for the US.

The secretary noted that the US would continue to engage with Pakistan through technical and development initiatives and through our robust trade and investment ties.

He also welcomed the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) approval of a programme to support Pakistan and encouraged continued reforms to promote economic recovery and prosperity.

Secretary Blinken stressed that democratic principles and respect for the rule of law are central to the US-Pakistan relationship and these values will continue to guide this partnership forward.

The lender approved a much-awaited $3 billion bailout for Pakistan earlier this month, a move that’s saved the nation from defaulting on its debt repayments. Pakistan sought the United States’ help in convincing the IMF to approve the loan.

Grain initiative

Separately, the foreign minister held a telephone conversation with European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell.

Expressing Pakistan’s concerns over the expiry of the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI), the foreign minister said that the resulting food inflation and food security-related challenges would adversely impact developing countries like Pakistan, which were already under economic pressure.

The deal allowing the safe Black Sea export of Ukraine’s grain expired last week after Russia quit and warned it could not guarantee the safety of ships.

According to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, millions of people facing hunger will “pay the price” of Russia’s decision to exit the Ukraine grain deal, and the move will “strike a blow to people in need everywhere”.

FM Bilawal had, in a presser alongside his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, also said that it was “in the world’s interest” to restore the grain initiative.

The foreign minister, during the call, told Blinken that he had also spoken to his Ukrainian and Turkish counterparts on this subject.

He hoped that efforts aimed at reviving the initiative would come to fruition through dialogue and constructive engagement, accommodating the concerns of all parties.

The foreign minister requested the EU High Representative to play his role to help find a solution that would allow the renewal of BSGI, and conveyed Pakistan’s readiness to contribute to collective efforts in that regard.