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New Delhi: After Indian external affairs minister S. Jaishankar questioned the US’s logic behind supplying the F-16 jet package to Pakistan and its reliance on Islamabad, Washington responded that both South Asian rivals are its “partners” with “differing points of emphasis”.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken publicly advised visiting Pakistan foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to evolve a “responsible relationship” with India, ahead of the former’s meeting with Jaishankar a day later.
Earlier this month, the US approved the potential sale of F-16 aircraft sustainment and related equipment to Pakistan in a deal valued at up to $450 million. India had protested the move in private, but then defence minister Rajnath Singh announced that he had taken it up with his US counterpart.
On Sunday, Jaishankar said at an event for the Indian-American community that the US argument that the F-16 aircraft is for fighting terrorists does not hold water. “For someone to say I am doing this because it is all counter-terrorism content and so when you are talking of an aircraft like a capability of an F-16 where everybody knows, you know where they are deployed and their use. You are not fooling anybody by saying these things,” he said.
The Indian minister had also questioned the US’s partnership with Pakistan, reminding that Washington had to withdraw in humiliation from Afghanistan in July last year. “If I were to speak to an American policy-maker, I would really make the case (that) look what you are doing… forget about us it’s actually not good for you, look at the last three years on where this relationship has gone and what cost you have paid,” he said.
A day later, US state department spokesperson Ned Price reacted to Jaishankar’s statement, by indicating that Washington’s relations with India and Pakistan will remain steady as they share common interests.
“Well, we don’t view our relationship with Pakistan, and on the other hand, we don’t view our relationship with India as in relation to one another,” he said in answer to a question at a regular media briefing.
He declared that India and Pakistan “are both partners of ours with different points of emphasis in each, and we look to both as partners because we do have in many cases shared values, we do have in many cases shared interests”.
Price also noted that relations with India and Pakistan stand on their own. He added that the United States wants the neighbours to have “relations with one another that are as constructive as can be possible”.
The agenda about bettering ties between India and Pakistan, who have not posted high commissioners in each other’s capitals since 2019, was also part of the US secretary of State’s bilateral meeting with Bhutto Zardari.
“In our discussions today, we talked about the importance of managing a responsible relationship with India, and I also urged our colleagues to engage China on some of the important issues of debt relief and restructure so that Pakistan can more quickly recover from the floods,” Blinken said at an event to mark 75 years of US-Pakistan relations.
He also stated that US and Pakistan have a “shared stake” in Afghanistan’s future and work closely on counter-terrorism issues. “We’ve had our differences; that’s no secret. But we share a common objective: a more stable, a more peaceful, and free future for all of Afghanistan and for those across the broader region,” said Blinken.
The US state department spokesperson also asserted that Pakistan was not just crucial to Afghanistan’s future, but also had a role in ensuring the Taliban adhered to its commitments under the Doha agreement.
“And of course, Pakistan is implicated in many of these same commitments – the counter-terrorism commitments, commitments to safe passage, commitments to the citizens of Afghanistan. The unwillingness or the inability on the part of the Taliban to live up to these commitments would have significant implications for Pakistan as well, and so for that reason, we do share a number of interests with Pakistan regarding its neighbours,” he said.
The US and Pakistan have had a testy relationship over the years, but it had improved as Washington began to work closely with the Taliban to draft the Doha agreement that eventually led to the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan.
In recent months, the Taliban regime has repeatedly accused Pakistan of allowing US military drones to cross the border into Afghanistan. On July 31, a US drone assassinated the Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri at a safe house in Kabul.