KARACHI: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has said the United States should not lose time-tested ‘old friends’ despite changing its priorities and making new strategic partners in South Asia.
Addressing a discussion held on Friday by the Asia Society on the occasion of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the foreign minister said that the US and Pakistan needed each other.
“US priorities have changed … it has new friends in the region. But please understand the value of long-standing friendship [with Pakistan],” he said while discussing priorities of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s new government.
“Pakistan and the US can’t do without each other,” Qureshi said. “Have new ones but why loose old friends?,” the minister added. “We need to see how to manage this new relationship [with the US] and expectations.”
About his meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on October 2, Qureshi said that he had a realistic agenda for the highly-anticipated meeting. He said the Pakistan-US ties have historically been looked through the prism of Afghanistan. “Road to Washington is via Kabul,” he noted.
In his speech, the minister discussed at length Pakistan’s relations with its neighbours, Afghanistan and India, ties with the US, and the country’s relationship with China, as well as its role in President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative.
In response to a question about maintaining a balance while keep strong bilateral ties with the US and China, Qureshi, in a lighter vein, said: “Both are important like a wife and a mistress.” He said China understands the history of Pakistan’s relationship with the US and had no issues regarding this.
Commenting on the Pakistan-India ties, he said he was disappointed by India’s reaction to the olive branch extended by Prime Minister Khan. Qureshi, however, stressed that Pakistan was still ready for talks. “Whenever you’re ready, Pakistan will not shy away.”
The minister maintained that the Indian leadership was reluctant to engage in dialogue with Pakistan due to domestic politics and upcoming general elections in the country.
The foreign minister said the administration of President Donald Trump had the right to choose new partners.
“Today India is their strategic partners. But let me remind you that whenever US stood with Pakistan it benefitted,” he added, referring to the Cold War era and Pakistan’s vital contribution in defeating the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
Qureshi, however, expressed concerns that the Taliban were regaining foothold in Afghanistan. He said Pakistan had lost the most in the war against terrorism. “We’ve lost over 70,000 lives for this cause,” he added.
The foreign minister said an honest and candid approach will be adopted by the PTI government when it comes to the ties with Afghanistan. The civil and military leadership of Pakistan, he said, was on the same page to address all issues concerning the nation after a long time.
“However, we’ll be careful before committing [to the US administration] because disappointments come when promises are not met,” he stated. “Pakistan desires peace in Afghanistan … it is in our national interest.”
The foreign minister said the newly-elected government of Pakistan Thereek-e-Insaf (PTI) was voted to power for bringing “change and for revising policies and looking at things differently.”
Qureshi said the Pakistani society comprised 65% of youth, a large middle-class, and a sizeable business community, most of them settled in the US, UK and other western countries. He said the overseas Pakistanis, who have experienced democratic norms in countries they are settled in, want the “same thing back home”.
He continued: “Prime Minister Imran Khan has rekindled the hope in youth. They have pinned hopes in the PTI government. People want honest leadership and institutional rebuilding and want to see an end to the dynastic politics.”