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Pakistan hits back at US after Biden’s criticism

File photo of US Ambassador Donald Blome and Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif

Relations between Pakistan and the US have hit a snag after Pakistan summoned US ambassador to Islamabad Donald Blome, to the foreign office on Saturday.

Blome, who had been gushing over his visit to Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK) just a fortnight back, was handed a ‘demarche’ by the foreign office in Islamabad after President Joe Biden called Pakistan “one of the most dangerous nations in the world”. He also made a mention of the country’s nuclear weapons.

Biden made those caustic remarks at a fund-raiser in California, causing a furore among the Pakistani government.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif tweeted that Pakistan was a “responsible nuclear state”. He said: “We are proud that our nuclear assets have the best safeguards … We take these safety measures with the utmost seriousness. Let no one have any doubts”.

Foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also expressed dismay. “I am surprised by the remarks of President Biden. I believe this is exactly the sort of misunderstanding that is created when there is lack of an engagement”, Bhutto said.

Biden’s comments about Pakistan come as a surprise considering that the two countries have recently seen an upswing in relations with the US promising repairs and maintenance for Pakistan’s F16 fighters. It is also reportedly helping the country with humanitarian aid over the massive flooding.

It is believed that US and Pakistan relations, which had touched rock bottom during former prime minister Imran Khan’s tenure, took a turn for the better after the US killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a drone strike in Afghan capital Kabul. Many believe that it was done with Pakistani help, which wanted to curry favour with the US as a weak economy and political turmoil squeezed the country.

American ambassador Blome had recently visited PoK, a disputed region which India regards as its own and under the illegal occupation of Pakistan. India took the visit as a signal that Washington was siding with Islamabad against India’s interests.

Earlier this year, US Congresswomen Ilhan Omar who is known to be publicly critical of India, visited PoK and also met Prime Minister Sharif.

Commenting on the visit, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said, “Our objections to the visit and meetings in PoK by the US envoy have been conveyed to the US side.”

India is touchy about the Kashmir issue. Recently Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had said that POK is a part of Indian territory and will continue to be so.

Also read: Is US Ambassador Blome’s visit to POK a signal to India and China?