The US is finally appointing a full-time ambassador to Pakistan. The post had been vacant for three years, mainly due to the policy of the former president Donald Trump to strip the State Department and reduce American interaction abroad. Analysts also said that it showed that the US was deprioritising the relationship with Pakistan, despite close coordination between the two countries on bringing an end to US military involvement in Afghanistan and the generally warm relationship between Trump and Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The new ambassador — who still requires formal confirmation from the US Senate — is Donald Blome, a career diplomat currently serving as Ambassador to Tunisia. Blome has extensive experience in the Middle East and Central Asia. Before his current role in Tunisia, he served as director of Arabian Peninsula Affairs and at lower positions at US embassies and consulates in Israel, Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, and Kuwait. The appointment of a seasoned diplomat appears to reflect growing recognition of Pakistan’s importance in US foreign policy decision-making. However, only time will tell if it will improve the strained relationship between Washington and Islamabad.
Until a few days back, top US diplomats had actually suggested that the Biden administration did not see itself building a broad-based relationship with Pakistan. Even if this is true, Blome’s appointment would indicate that President Biden’s State Department still sees some areas of cooperation beyond Afghanistan policy. As former US Ambassador to Afghanistan and Pakistan Ryan Crocker noted in an NYT opinion piece in August, disengaging with Pakistan in the 1990s was a mistake that led to the rise of the Taliban and instability in the region. Biden’s policies, Crocker said, were repeating that mistake.
Meanwhile, Pakistani Foreign Office officials appear hopeful that, despite the tough talk of recent months, appointing a new ambassador is a sign that the US is not closing the door on broad-based ties. Indeed, despite ups and downs caused by Pakistan’s close relations with China, foreign policy decisions regarding Afghanistan, and domestic human rights issues, past US administrations have generally been willing to work with Islamabad to maintain or strengthen ties in several areas.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 22nd, 2021.
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