A barely noticed remark by President Joe Biden during a fund-raising campaign describing Pakistan as one of the world’s most dangerous countries sparked a diplomatic spat on Saturday when the country’s secretary of state summoned the US ambassador to dress.
Biden’s description upset the feathers of a country that considers itself a staunch ally of the US and has given tens of thousands of lives in the war on terror.
“Pakistan’s disappointment and concern was conveyed to the US envoy over the unwarranted comments, which were not based on reality or facts,” the country’s foreign ministry said.
It recalls the fragile relations between Washington and a nuclear-armed nation accused by successive governments of harboring the Taliban.
It started with comments from Biden on Thursday night.
For a select group of donors in Brentwood, an affluent neighborhood of Los Angeles, Biden turned his attention to foreign policy.
President Joe Biden said on Thursday that Pakistan is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. The comments were part of a fundraiser and went largely unnoticed
Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said he was surprised by Biden’s comments and defended the safety of the country’s nuclear arsenal.
While discussing threats to the US, Biden described Pakistan as one of the most dangerous countries in the world, adding that it “had nuclear weapons without any coherence.”
The event was not public. And the entry was buried in a polar report sent to reporters covering the White House. It initially made few waves outside the world of foreign policy.
But commentators said it was strange that Biden brought Pakistan up like that when it didn’t even deserve a mention in a new national security strategy unveiled this week.
Privately, White House officials said nothing had changed.
Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked about it a day later aboard Air Force One when the president traveled from California to Oregon.
She said he hadn’t announced anything new.
“The president views a safe and prosperous Pakistan as vital to American interests,” she said.
But by then, Biden’s original comments had reached news organizations in Pakistan.
The country’s prime minister said the comments were “factually inaccurate and misleading.”
“In recent decades, Pakistan has proven to be a highly responsible nuclear state, in which its nuclear program is managed by a technically sound and infallible command and control system,” Prime Minister Shebaz Sharif said.
The Pakistani Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in 2007, closing nearly 100 miles (160 km) from the capital Islamabad. They were forced to leave two years later, but remain a terrorist threat
During a press conference on Saturday, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said he was surprised by Biden and that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is safe.
“As far as the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear assets is concerned, we meet all – every – international standard in accordance with the IAEA,” he said, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which oversees safety.
Instead, he pointed the finger at India, which he said had accidentally fired a missile into Pakistani territory.
“This is not only irresponsible and unsafe, but also raises genuine and serious concerns about the security of nuclear-capable countries,” he said.
He added that Biden’s comments were exactly the kind of misunderstanding that could arise when the two countries failed to communicate with each other.
“I believe this is exactly the kind of misunderstanding that arises when there is a lack of involvement,” he said.
Biden did not speak to Prime Minister Imran Khan, a populist leader with close ties to the military, before he was removed from power earlier this year.
Devastating monsoon floods have heightened concerns over Pakistan’s stability
Pakistani men receive food distributed by Pakistani army troops in a flood-affected area of Rajanpur, Punjab district
And Pakistani leaders continue to be annoyed by what they say a government is ignoring them.
That reflects years of strained relationships.
Washington often accused Islamabad of playing both ways, allowing the Afghan Taliban to operate from safe havens within their territory while soaking up billions in US military aid.
US officials have also expressed concern in the past that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal could fall into the hands of terrorists due to the country’s history of political instability.
The country is said to have a nuclear arsenal of about 165 nuclear warheads — making it the sixth largest stockpile in the world, according to the Center For Arms Control and Proliferation.
The country has been hit by devastating floods this year. Heavy monsoon rains, exacerbated by climate change, have killed at least 1,500 people and created new tensions.