- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2017

Recent efforts by Pakistan to forge closer diplomatic ties with China and Russia does not represent the opening salvos of “a zero sum game” with Washington, according to the country’s new ambassador to the United States.

Islamabad’s ties to Washington remains “one of critical importance” to the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry told reporters Friday. Ongoing outreach between the Chinese and Russian governments and a key American ally in Southwest Asia is not only in Pakistan’s interest, but also in the interest of the U.S., Mr. Chaudhry said.

But those relationships, particularly those with China, could be seen as an affront by the Trump White House to Washington’s long-standing security and economic partnership with Pakistan.

President Trump repeatedly needled Beijing with with bombastic rhetoric from suggesting Pacific allies pursue nuclear weapons programs and accusing China of currency manipulation to openly questioning the U.S.’ “One China” policy. The White House has since reversed course and largely adopted tenets of the One China policy.

Pakistan’s emerging ties with China, which include the creation of several economic zones in the country that are already attracting investment interest from Europe and the U.S., should be seen as a bridge rather than a barrier to U.S. relations, Mr. Chaudhry said. “We can serve as that bridge,” he added.

While painting Pakistan’s growing linkages with Beijing as one beneficial to the international community, the country’s overtures toward Russia are steeped in preserving Islamabad’s regional interests.

Pakistani Sen. Syed Mushahid Hussain, a top lawmaker and senior aide to Mr. Sharif, said in October that the country will conduct joint military exercises with Russia and begin buying arms from Moscow for the first time in decades.

As first reported by The Washington Times, the move is part of a “new regionalism” strategy being pursued by the Sharif regime, with Islamabad also pursuing new infrastructure projects with China to open trade routes with their South and Central Asian neighbors, Mr. Hussain said at the time.

But allegations by U.S. European Command chief Gen. Mike Scaparrotti that Russia is providing material support to the Taliban, coupled with Moscow’s military aggressiveness in Ukraine and eastern Europe, has Washington casting a wary eye on Pakistan’s efforts.

On Friday, Mr. Chaudhry said Islamabad is reaching out to all possible allies in the region, in order to maintain diplomatic stability with all its neighbors. Lumping Russia into that group, “why should we stop” reaching out to Moscow, he said.

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