LAHORE, Pakistan — Pakistan — the fifth-most populous country and one of the top 10 nations most affected by extreme weather events — could not make the cut for a seat among the 40 nations invited by the Joseph R. Biden administration to discuss climate change.
President Biden’s first summit on climate, to be held virtually on April 22 and 23, will try “to galvanize efforts by the major economies to tackle the crisis”. In recent years, scientists have underscored the need to limit planetary warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. A key goal of the summit will be to catalyze efforts that keep the goal within reach.
“It will be a key milestone on the road to the United Nations Climate Change Conference [COP26] this November in Glasgow [in the U.K.],” said a statement issued by the White House. The summit brings together countries that are responsible for “80 percent of global emissions and global Gross Domestic Product” and “demonstrate strong climate leadership, are especially vulnerable to climate impacts or are charting innovative pathways to a net-zero economy”.
From South Asia, India, Bangladesh, and Bhutan are invited.
Some analysts believe Washington’s troubled relationship with Islamabad vis-à-vis Afghanistan might have been why the country couldn’t make it to the list.
“Pakistani officials claim that there were several very specific criteria for attendance and that Pakistan didn’t meet any of them,” Michael Kugelman, the deputy director of the Asia program and senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center, told the Zenger News.
“That may be true, but it’s hard to believe that one of the world’s most populous and climate-vulnerable countries would not meet any criteria for a summit focused on climate risks,” Kugelman said.
He thinks it’s more of an issue of framing as the U.S. largely views Pakistan from a lens concentrated on Washington’s interests in Afghanistan.
Echoing Kugelman’s views, Maria Amjad, an expert on Pakistan’s affairs based at the University of Genoa, Italy, told Zenger News that the U.S. is frustrated with the Afghan Taliban and the non-termination of violence in Afghanistan as it looks for a withdrawal.
“The U.S. asked Pakistan to pressurize the Afghan Taliban leaders to avert their policy over links with al-Qaida and the usage of violence in the country,” Amjad said, “It believes that Pakistan is not offering its 100 percent cooperation on the issue.”
Maria believes that the Pakistan Supreme Court releasing the alleged murderer of Daniel Pearl could be another reason for this snub.
“The U.S. was outraged by this episode and, in consequence, asked Pakistan to reconsider the decision of the court. Pakistan rebuffed the request claiming it had ensured justice was served to the murderers of the American journalist,” she said.
Pearl, an American journalist for The Wall Street Journal, was kidnaped and murdered in Pakistan in 2002. For almost two decades, the U.S. has vigorously pursued the case in Pakistani courts.
“The [Pakistani] court’s decision is an affront to terrorism victims everywhere, including in Pakistan,” the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement after the acquittal.
“We are also prepared to prosecute Sheikh [the alleged mastermind of Pearl’s murder] in the U.S. for his horrific crimes against an American citizen.”
What makes it further certain that the U.S.’s attempt to sideline Pakistan was intentional and had more to do than Islamabad simply failing to fulfill technical criteria was U.S. climate envoy John Kerry’s visit to India and Bangladesh from April 1 to 9.
Kerry’s South Asia visit didn’t have anything on the agenda concerning Pakistan, even though the country is highly vulnerable to climate-related impacts.
Arguably, Pakistan’s exclusion from the summit is not the only time when the Biden administration may have tried to cold-shoulder Pakistan.
“Biden has not yet established direct contact with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, despite Khan’s request. On the other hand, he established such contacts with the Afghan President and the Indian Prime Minister,” said Maria.
Maria said it is shocking that “despite terming Pakistan as an essential partner in the Afghan peace process, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin did not travel to Pakistan during his recent visit to India and Afghanistan”.
Pakistan may not have fulfilled the U.S.’s wishes on Afghanistan, but one cannot ignore that the country has facilitated the Afghan peace process for years.
“Austin’s preference to speak with the Pakistani leadership regarding the Afghan peace process over a phone call from Kabul was anything but constructive,” said Maria.
In his phone call with Pakistan’s Army Chief, Austin renewed Washington’s “commitment to maintaining strong bilateral defense relationship with Pakistan and expressed gratitude for Islamabad’s continued support for the Afghan peace process,” as per a U.S. Department of Defense press statement.
Others said that the only contacts which Biden’s team may have established so far with Pakistan are direct with the country’s military leadership.
This, to an extent, reinforces the existing view in Islamabad that Washington remains uninterested in supporting the country’s civil forces or assist it on other urgent softer issues like climate change.
“The politics of climate change is unlikely to be discussed with Pakistan’s Army chief as it is not part of regular hard security,” Asfandyar Mir, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University Center for International Security and Cooperation, told Zenger News. “Therefore, it didn’t happen.”
“The Pakistani government needs to assert itself in setting the foreign policy agenda and mode of engagement with top U.S. interlocutors if it wants Washington to view it beyond Afghanistan,” Mir said.
For Pakistan’s policymakers, Biden’s administration’s attitude has been nothing less than a surprise as Islamabad believes it has done enough to make Washington happy with its last few years’ cooperation in Afghanistan.
“Pakistanis will understandably view this as a snub. But I think it’s best seen as another example of a longstanding disconnect between the U.S. and Pakistan. Islamabad is keen for Washington to view it with a broader lens,” said Kugelman.
On April 2, Pakistan’s Prime Minister took to Twitter to record his annoyance by saying that he was “puzzled at the cacophony” over his country not invited to the climate summit.
“My government’s environment policies are driven solely by the commitment to our future generations of a clean and green Pakistan and to mitigate the impact of climate change,” Khan said.
Quoting his government’s initiatives as guidance for the international community, he said: “We have gained vast experience in mitigating the impact of climate change in seven years, beginning with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and our policies are being recognized and lauded. We are ready to help any state wanting to learn from our experience.”
Khan says the policies involve planting 10 billion trees and initiatives such as clean and green Pakistan.
Indirectly criticizing Biden’s summit, he said: “I have already laid out priorities for the COP26 if the international community is serious about countering the impact of climate change.”
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri, too, issued a statement: “Pakistan, despite being among the top ten countries affected by climate change, is one of the lowest emitters – with less than one percent of the global emissions.”
By and large, Pakistan’s civil and military leadership was optimistic about its relations with the U.S. when Biden took over as U.S. President.
“The optimism stemmed from the fact that President Biden knew Pakistan well, and his knowledge of the country could help pave the way for better understanding between the countries,” said Maria.
Kugelamn said Pakistanis should not see this as the Biden administration’s first and only word on climate change cooperation.
“There will be opportunities for the U.S. and Pakistan to cooperate on climate change mitigation. Especially after the new administration has developed a policy on Pakistan and there are more high-level exchanges between the two sides.”
(Edited by Amrita Das and Gaurab Dasgupta. Map by Urvashi Makwana)
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