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Pakistan’s PM Urges US, China to Reduce Tensions

FILE - Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan gestures during an interview with Reuters in Islamabad, June 4, 2021.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said Thursday that instead of siding with so-called Cold War-like “blocs,” his country would like to help de-escalate tensions between the United States and China.

Khan cautioned in his keynote speech to a regional security seminar in Islamabad the rivalry between the two world powers “is moving towards (another) Cold War and new blocs are (again) being formed.”

He said Islamabad does not want to “get trapped” into another Cold War the way it did by joining the U.S.-led Western alliance against the erstwhile Soviet Union.

"Pakistan must try its best to stop the formation of these blocs. We must not become part of any bloc,” he insisted. Pakistan served as a base for the U.S.-funded Afghan armed resistance dubbed Islamic jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Khan’s remarks came a day after his government said it would not attend U.S. President Joe Biden’s two-day virtual Summit for Democracy starting Thursday, where Washington has invited Taiwan but not China.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry in its official handout on Wednesday did not cite any reason for skipping the summit, but a senior government official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Taiwan’s participation is not in line with Islamabad’s long-standing stance of “firmly” supporting the “One-China Policy.”

“We will continue engaging with summit participants and non-participants alike to address ways to strengthen democracy, promote respect for human rights, and fight corruption, whether that work occurs within or outside of the summit framework,” a senior Biden administration official told VOA in response to the snub from Pakistan.

Khan recalled Thursday that Pakistan had served as the channel of communication to arrange a secret visit from Islamabad to Beijing in 1971 of then-U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, which re-established Sino-U.S. ties after more than two decades of diplomatic silence.

“We want to bring people together…Pakistan had played a role in opening up China to America back in the 1970s,” Khan said.

Pakistan’s traditionally close political, military and economic ties with China have solidified in recent years, with Beijing investing billions of dollars in energy and infrastructure development projects in the South Asian country.

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Allegations that Pakistan military supported the Islamist Taliban in waging a deadly insurgency against U.S.-led international forces in neighboring Afghanistan for the past 20 years and retaking control of the country last August have further strained Islamabad’s already tumultuous ties with Washington.

Biden has not spoken to Khan since taking office nor has there been any high-level exchanges of visits between the two countries.

The Pakistani prime minister in his address Thursday warned that the U.S. decision to freeze Afghan central bank assets and impose financial sanctions after the Taliban takeover of Kabul has plunged the war-torn country into an economic crisis, increasing humanitarian needs to unprecedented levels.

"We are trying our best to inform them (the U.S.) that regardless of whether you like the Taliban or not the survival of 40 million Afghans is at stake, Khan said. “If the freeze on funds and the economic squeeze persist the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan will aggravate and become a problem for the world eventually.”