Although we do not know how the Pentagon came into possession of any of the confidential papers, we do know that they are real. They were leaked last month using the instant messaging service Discord.
For those who are following Pakistan, a specific document whose legitimacy has not been disputed by the parties involved is of tremendous importance. It is a note from Pakistan’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar, dated March 2023. She is not to be mistaken with the Foreign Minister, who she serves as the deputy for most of the time.
The minister writes in the email, “Pakistan’s Difficult Choices,” that her nation “can no longer try to maintain a middle ground between China and the United States.” Khar examines Pakistan’s different efforts to placate the US. Even if these efforts are really cosmetic rather than genuine, she observes, the mere “appearance” of amusing the United States is enough to enrage China. Any action that suggests Pakistan is considering American pressure or ideas should stop, according to Khar, since the only “strategic partnership” Pakistan has is with China.
According to others, Khar wanted to keep Pakistan from joining the second Summit for Democracy that President Biden planned for the end of March. Both the first one in 2021 and the second one were missed by Pakistan. Beyond the particular circumstances driving the letter, there are some broader issues that the paper highlights that are relevant to readers of “Bitter Winter” as well since we regularly discuss the precarious state of religious freedom in Pakistan.
The United States has donated tens of billions of dollars to Pakistan, both for altruistic humanitarian reasons and in the intention of advancing democracy and human rights there. It is not a secret that the United States has frequently refrained from or delayed imposing a stricter censorship on Pakistan regarding its support for or toleration of terrorist organizations as well as issues related to freedom of religion or belief, including the bloody persecution of the Ahmadi minority, the kidnapping and forced conversion to Islam of Hindu and Christian girls who are later married to Muslims, and laws that carry the death penalty for blasphemy. In an effort to maintain Pakistan’s “middle ground” status between the West and China, the U.S. took this action.
We now know from Khar’s letter that this tactic was unsuccessful. China is the name of the camp that Pakistan has picked. Therefore, neither the United States nor Europe should be hesitant to withhold assistance from Pakistan until it improves its appalling record on religious freedom and human rights, denounces the atrocities of forced marriage and conversion, blasphemy laws, and the violent persecution of Ahmadis, and imposes sanctions akin to those imposed on Magnitsky against those responsible for the repression.