FeaturedInternationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 48

Biden’s veiled threat?

US President Joe Biden’s latest remarks about the Pakistani nation and its nuclear programme indicate deep-rooted mistrust between the two countries. It also shows American concerns about Pakistan in the evolving situation in the world, especially its growing hostility towards China and Russia. His statement should also be taken as a serious threat to Pakistan, at a time when the country is facing serious issues on internal and external fronts.

It is clear that the US has started seeing Pakistan through its China prism after decades of looking at it through its Afghanistan lens. Pakistan’s neutral stance on the Russia-Ukraine war could also be a reason for the US President to term it “one of the most dangerous nations in the world” with “nuclear weapons without any cohesion.” Later, a State Department spokesperson said that Washington was confident of Pakistan’s determination to protect its nuclear arsenal. “The US is confident about Pakistan’s determination to protect nuclear assets,” he told a private news channel. “President Biden believes a safe, prosperous Pakistan is critical to American interests. The US values its longstanding cooperation with Pakistan,” he maintained. Earlier, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said there was nothing new in Biden’s statement about Pakistan’s nuclear assets and he had made such comments before as well. She, however, maintained that President Biden supports a “strong and prosperous Pakistan” as critical to US interests. However, damage has already been done despite the explanations.

The US President’s ‘off-the cuff’ remarks prompted Pakistan to issue a demarche to the American ambassador. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif dismissed the concerns over Pakistan’s nuclear programme. “Let me reiterate unequivocally: Pakistan is a responsible nuclear state and we are proud that our nuclear assets have the best safeguards as per IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) requirements. We take these safety measures with the utmost seriousness. Let no one have any doubts,” he tweeted. Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto first attempted to downplay the statement, then said he was surprised by it and attributed it to a “misunderstanding” which stemmed from a lack of engagement between the two sides.

As expected, the harshest reaction came from former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his party. “I have two questions on this: 1, on what information has POTUS reached this unwarranted conclusion on our nuclear capability when having been Prime Minister I know we have one of the most secure command and control systems. 2. Unlike the US which has been involved in wars across the world, when has Pakistan shown aggression especially post-nuclearisation,” he tweeted. “Equally important, this Biden statement shows total failure of the imported government’s foreign policy and its claims of a reset of relations with the US? Is this the reset? This government has broken all records for incompetence,” he alleged. PTI Secretary General Asad Umar said: “A nuclear country without cohesion? Is Biden referring to the US?” PTI leader Dr Shireen Mazari said, “Biden’s tirade against Pakistan is not unexpected, as the US has been doing this regularly; however, what is shameful is silence from our “imported” government. You need to apologise to the Pakistani nation for your nasty remarks just because your regime change conspiracy is faltering,” she told Biden in a statement. “A nuclear US is a threat to the world because you have no control over your nukes. A B52 bomber takes off with six live nukes in 2007 and no one knows about it for hours. An irresponsible superpower with nukes and your proclivity to interfere globally with regime change agendas alongside militarising the oceans: custodial torture in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram. Even your own people are not safe from gunmen going on killing sprees. Have some shame Biden. Our nuclear weapons command and control has an unblemished safety record unlike the US but the US can never accept a Muslim nuclear state. So Biden you said something about national cohesion? Seriously, the US needs to do some serious introspection before targeting other countries. An unstable nuclear super power with no national cohesion is a grave threat to the rest of the world,” she added.

The ground realities show deep-rooted mistrust and a clash of interests between the US and Pakistan. At times, they act as sworn enemies but circumstances bring them closer together to work jointly. Sometimes, the US treats Pakistan like an enemy but wants it to behave like a slave. It fiercely opposed Pakistan in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), resisted an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout package for it and many Pakistanis believe its “harsh” conditions were because of the US; it openly criticised Pakistan’s participation in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and always accused Pakistan of playing a “double game” and not doing enough to protect its interests.

When former Prime Minister Imran Khan accused the US of blatantly interfering in Pakistan’s domestic politics and life threats to him through a letter, it was not surprising for many people in Pakistan. The US was not happy when Imran Khan had visited Russia. In a rare move, foreign envoys in Pakistan urged the country to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine in the UNGA session. The undiplomatic demand was made through a joint letter written to Pakistan by heads of various foreign missions in the country, including Germany and France. Pakistan’s Foreign Office said the demand was against diplomatic norms. It also angered Imran Khan, who asked the envoys whether they had written a similar letter to India.

The US President’s statement should be taken seriously by Pakistan. His “veiled threat” aims to target Pakistan and its nuclear programme, at a time when the country is facing serious economic challenges, which have compounded by devastating floods. In the situation, all political parties should sit together and devise a strategy to save the country from internal and external threats.