United States President Joe Biden has not invited Pakistan to the Leaders Summit on Climate, which is scheduled to take place virtually on April 22 and 23.
According to a statement issued by the White House, 40 leaders from across the world, including India and Bangladesh, are invited to the summit in an attempt to “to galvanize efforts by the major economies to tackle the climate crisis.”
“It will be a key milestone on the road to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) this November in Glasgow,” the statement noted further.
In Pakistan, public and government officials are annoyed over the country’s exclusion from the summit despite the fact that Pakistan is fifth most vulnerable country to climate change globally. The development is a bit surprising, particularly given that many other Asian countries have been invited. If the summit is simply about covering the issue of climate change and countries’ vulnerability to it globally, the development hardly makes sense.
Responding to the exclusion, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri issued a statement saying that “Pakistan’s landmark initiatives like the Billion Tree Tsunami have won international acclaim, including from the World Economic Forum,” and the summit brings together “leaders from countries responsible for approximately 80 percent of global emissions and GDP.”
Explaining why the Biden administration may not have considered inviting Pakistan to the summit, Wilson Center analyst Michael Kugelman told The Diplomat: “I think it’s a case of an unfortunate oversight. The U.S. government, to its detriment, looks at Pakistan through a narrow lens largely limited to Afghanistan and hard security. So when it comes time to identify 40 world leaders to attend a climate summit, Imran Khan won’t be one of them. This isn’t to say that U.S. officials don’t recognize that Pakistan is a climate vulnerable country. It’s just that they will think of other countries first.”
Echoing Kugelman’s views, Stanford University Center for International Security and Cooperation’s Asfandyar Mir told The Diplomat, “U.S.-Pakistan relationship remains very tense due to the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s support for the Taliban. The relationship is not at the cusp of total collapse as in 2017-18, but these days the U.S. government is grappling with the Taliban’s difficult behavior amid a highly volatile situation in Afghanistan, which has a spillover effect on U.S. policy towards Pakistan.”
“When it comes to Pakistan, the Biden administration will subordinate the climate agenda and Pakistan’s importance to it to its more immediate policy equities on ending the war in Afghanistan, which is front and center for the Biden foreign policy agenda,” said Mir.
Analysts disagree over whether the move was aimed at deliberately ignoring Pakistan, which apparently has not put enough pressure on the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan. Kugelman believes that from the United States’ perspective, it’s not necessarily a deliberate snub, even if many in Pakistan may think so. “The Pakistan-U.S. relationship is in a relatively good place now, from Washington’s perspective. It has no incentive to antagonize Islamabad, and especially as it seeks Pakistani cooperation in the Afghan peace process — one of the Biden administration’s biggest initial foreign policy priorities.”
However, Mir believes that the move is definitely meant to send some sort of message to Pakistan. The more important question is why that is the case. “As the U.S. looks for a withdrawal from Afghanistan, it is exceedingly frustrated with the behavior of the Afghan Taliban, which is refusing to break from al-Qaeda, stop violence and engage in meaningful intra-Afghan dialogue. Pakistan not only backs the Taliban but is also upholding the Taliban’s red-lines on key issues, such as on reduction in violence in Afghanistan.”
“The U.S. wants Pakistan to bring the full weight of its influence on the Taliban leadership in Pakistan and the current assessment is that Pakistan is not pressing the Taliban enough. So until that happens, the Biden administration will not offer many positive inducements to Pakistan,” he added.
The development is unfortunate as it only offers further evidence to the existing widespread claims that Pakistan’s significance for the U.S. remains limited to the country’s security efficacy for Washington. Irrespective of all the technical grounds that may have been put in place in order to draw up the invitation list, it is simply mind-boggling that one of the most vulnerable countries to clime change didn’t fulfill the criteria for a summit focused on climate risks.
“For all the talk of Joe Biden and Imran Khan both being passionate about climate change, the U.S. will be selective about who it wants its top partners to be in combating it,” said Kugelman.
Apparently, the Biden administration’s quiet cold-shouldering of Pakistan or the current government there is not only limited to the climate summit. Several other recent developments indicate that the Biden administration’s core agenda of engaging Pakistan on Afghanistan and security issues remains unchanged. There have not been any visible attempts to support the country’s elected civilian government or help the country on other, softer, issues.
“Since the Biden administration came to office, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin have bypassed their civilian counterparts to engage with Pakistan’s army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Even Special Envoy Khalilzad, on his last visit to Islamabad, didn’t meet Pakistan’s foreign minister and instead met the army chief,” said Mir. “This may be out of necessity from an American perspective on ending the war in Afghanistan but the net result is that things that the Pakistani political class and people are more sensitive to don’t get across to their U.S. interlocutors at a political level.”
“Ultimately, while the perceived snub may sting, I don’t think it’s something to be overly worried about. And at any rate, it’s not like Pakistan — and especially its current government — requires the validation of the U.S. to pursue climate change goals and show leadership on climate change mitigation,” maintains Kugelman.
“The Pakistani public is rightly disturbed by the U.S. snub on an issue of long-term importance but they should also be realistic in what they expect from -Pakistan-U.S. ties. It is not a friendship but, on balance, an adversarial relationship,” said Mir.