After U.S. President Donald J. Trump on August 21 identified Pakistan as a safe haven for terrorists in a speech on his strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia, Islamabad has decided to slow down high-level bilateral interactions. Instead, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif will go to China and Russia to discuss U.S. policy among other matters.
On August 26, the U.S. State Department just confirmed that Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice Wells would visit to Pakistan, in order to discuss matters with top Pakistani officials. Hours later, Wells’ scheduled trip to Pakistan was cancelled by Pakistan’s government, according to Pakistan‘s daily newspaper Dawn. The US Embassy in Pakistan told Dawn that Wells’ visit will be “postponed until a mutually convenient time.”
Pakistan also cancelled plans for its own foreign minister to visit Washington.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif was scheduled to meet U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington. The meeting was planned earlier on August 14, when Tillerson called Asif to congratulate him on Pakistan’s 70th Independence Day.
Even until August 22 — two days after Trump issued his strategy — Asif was still planning to meet Tillerson and “have an in-depth discussion on the state of play in the bilateral relationship as well as the new US policy on South Asia,” according to Pakistan’s foreign ministry.
On August 26, however, Dawn disclosed that Asif would delay his previously scheduled trip to the United States and visit China and Russia next week instead.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman also confirmed that Asif “will be visiting regional countries for consultations” and that “the dates for visit to U.S. (sic) were not finalized.”
Pakistan didn’t make this decision on impulse. On August 24, Pakistan’s National Security Committee held a special meeting to discuss the United States’ South Asia strategy. In the meeting, the Committee strongly rejected the United States’ allegations against Pakistan, and decided to undertake regional diplomacy with China and Russia immediately, according to Dawn.
So far, both China and Russia have defended Pakistan against Trump’s sharp criticism. China, in particular, gave Pakistan immediate “strong support” and recognized Pakistan’s great sacrifice in countering terrorism.