Pakistan on Saturday subpoenaed the US ambassador for a statement after President Joe Biden called the South Asian country “one of the most dangerous nations in the world” and questioned its nuclear weapons security protocols.
Biden made the seemingly off-the-cuff remark late Thursday while addressing United States foreign policy during a private Democratic Party fundraiser in California, but the White House later released a transcript of his comments, sparking outrage in Pakistan.
Washington’s relations with Pakistan have soured since last year, when the US ended a two-decade war in Afghanistan.
Pakistan provided crucial logistical access, but US officials believe Islamabad’s powerful military and intelligence apparatus also aided the Taliban, who returned to power after foreign troops withdrew.
Speaking of his frequent interactions with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Biden said: “Did anyone think that we would be in a situation where China is trying to figure out its role in relation to Russia and relative to India and relative to Pakistan ?
“This is a guy who gets what he wants but has a tremendous amount of problems. How do we deal with that? How do we deal with this compared to what is going on in Russia?
“And what I think is perhaps one of the most dangerous nations in the world: Pakistan. Nuclear weapons without any cohesion.”
Hours after the transcript of his address was sent out, Pakistan summoned US Ambassador Donald Blome to the State Department in Islamabad.
– Room for maneuver –
“I have discussed it with the Prime Minister and we have summoned the United States Ambassador to make an official demarche,” Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said during a news conference in Karachi.
“I am surprised by President Biden’s comments. I believe this is exactly the kind of misunderstanding that occurs when there is a lack of commitment.”
Zardari appeared to offer Washington some leeway.
“It was not an official event, it was not an address to the nation or to Parliament,” he said.
“We should give them an opportunity to explain this position. I don’t think this should negatively impact Pakistan-US relations.”
The US is wary of Pakistan’s close partnership with China as Beijing pushes a $54 billion “economic corridor” that will build infrastructure and give Beijing access to the Indian Ocean.
Washington has repeatedly said China will reap most of the benefits, leaving Pakistan with unsustainable debt.
Warnings from the US – which sees China as its foremost global competitor – have been repeatedly brushed aside by Pakistan.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan abstained in a United Nations General Assembly vote this week condemning Russia’s annexation of parts of Ukraine, despite a major US diplomatic push to secure clearer condemnation of Moscow.