Bilawal’s US visit may lead to Shehbaz-Biden contact

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Diplomatic sources are not ruling out possibility of a telephone call between President Biden and PM Shehbaz


Kamran Yousaf May 22, 2022

PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD:Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s recently concluded visit to the United States may restore bilateral contacts at the leadership level between the two countries, diplomatic sources familiar with the development said.

Last week, Bilawal undertook a maiden visit to the US as foreign minister primarily to attend the food security conference in New York at the invitation of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

On the sidelines, Bilawal held an over hour-long meeting with Secretary Blinken, breaking the months-long stalemate between Pakistan and the US.

Read more: Bilawal supports Imran’s Russia visit

The meeting was termed “constructive” and helped break the ice in the relationship, diplomatic sources told The Express Tribune.

In fact, sources claimed that the invitation for the food security conference was just a cover-up, the real purpose of the visit was to arrange the Bilawal-Blinken meeting.

Secretary Blinken agreeing to host Bilawal on short notice was seen as unprecedented given the recent tensions between the two countries.

After former prime minister Imran Khan’s visit to Moscow, there was a complete breakdown in the communication between Pakistan and the US.

Contrary to PTI’s public position, sources said Imran Khan’s government tried to pacify the Biden administration over Russia’s visit and Pakistani stance on Ukraine conflict.

Also read: US wants ‘expanded ties’ with Pakistan, Blinken assures Bilawal

Former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi tried to contact Secretary Blinken in order to explain Pakistan’s stance but diplomatic sources said the top US diplomat refused to attend Qureshi’s call.

Against this backdrop, Bilawal’s visit was seen as significant. Prior to his trip, Director-General Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt General Nadeem Anjum travelled to Washington and held talks with relevant US officials including the CIA chief. The visit of the DG ISI went “really well” according to sources.

In view of this flurry of engagements, there is now a possibility of contact at the leadership level.

President Biden had completely ignored former PM Imran, when he was in office, as he never telephoned him. But the possibility of a telephone call between President Joe Biden and PM Shehbaz has not been ruled out.

According to sources, a lot will depend on how long the government stays in power. The Western capitals are currently following the policy of “wait and see” as there is still no clarity as to whether this government completes the rest of the term or goes for early elections as demanded by Imran Khan.

Once there is clarity about the longevity of the current government, there will be further exchanges between Pakistan and the US.

After Bilawal’s visit to the US, there is a feeling that Washington, which holds a considerable sway on the IMF, will not create any obstacles in the way of international lenders to restore the programme with Pakistan.

The IMF and Pakistani delegations are currently holding talks in Doha to revive the programme. But the fate of the IMF programme depends on the coalition government taking tough economic decisions including the withdrawal of fuel subsidies.

But the Shehbaz-led government is reluctant to make crucial decisions as it is first seeking a guarantee from the powerful quarters to ensure that the current dispensation will complete the rest of the term.

Sources said that the next couple of days are crucial as on one hand Imran Khan is leading a march to Islamabad on May 25 while on the same day talks with the IMF would conclude.