Bilawal Reaches US for First Diplomatic Visit as Foreign Minister

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Bilawal Zardari Bhutto, has arrived in New York where he is scheduled to meet today with the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken. Their bilateral meeting will be held on the sidelines of today’s ministerial meeting and debate on food security at the United Nations Security Council.

The meeting between Bhutto and Blinken is seen as a crucial first step in resetting what has, over recent years, become a strained relationship between the two countries.

This is Bhutto’s first visit abroad as FM and is seen as a vital testing ground of his diplomatic skills at a time when relations between Pakistan and the US are at an all-time low. All eyes will be on how he handles the challenge of restoring the strategic ties enjoyed by the two countries over the past three-quarters of a century.

Despite this long history of cooperation between Pakistan and the US, the relationship floundered during the tenure of former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s PTI government. Commentators have blamed the current turbulence in the relationship on the former PM’s pursuit of an independent foreign policy which is thought to have angered the US.

The former PM’s visit to Russia at the start of the Ukraine war set ties back even further when US calls to cancel his visit and stand alongside the international community in condemning Russian actions in Ukraine, were ignored.

Khan has also been vocal in his accusations of a conspiracy between the US and his domestic political opponents to remove him from office and replace him with a leadership more compliant with US needs in the region. The accusations have been strongly denied by both Washington and the new coalition government in Islamabad.

This has not, however, stopped the accusations from gaining ground amongst PTI supporters who have chanted anti-US slogans at rallies organized to protest against the former PM’s ousting.

Set against this background, the meeting between FM Bhutto and Secretary Blinken will also be an opportunity for Pakistan to state its position on areas of concern, including the situation in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar, said in a statement, that Pakistan would use every available platform in “a positive and powerful way” to highlight Indian human rights abuses. “We will take care of Pakistan’s interests,” she further said in her statement.

FM Bhutto is also scheduled to meet today with the Foreign Ministers of Italy and Germany on the fringes of the ministerial meeting at the UN Security Council before he travels to China for his next diplomatic visit.