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COVID cooperation, Kashmir approach show signs of improving US-Pakistan ties


The United States has donated 100 medical ventilators to support Pakistan in its fight against COVID-19.

"This donation delivers on President Donald Trump's generous offer of these critically needed supplies and supports Pakistan's urgent response to the pandemic," the US Embassy said in a statement Friday.

The national tally of confirmed coronavirus cases in Pakistan, a country of 220 million people, has surpassed 222,000, with nearly 4,600 patients dying since officials detected the outbreak four months ago.

"The United States has been kind and generous particularly in the context of COVID where the US has actually designated Pakistan as one of the 10 priority countries," Asad Majeed Khan, the Pakistani ambassador to the US, told an online forum in Washington on Thursday.

The Trump administration has contributed nearly $27 million in new funding to help Islamabad build capacity and expand laboratory testing, disease monitoring and patient care, among other challenges to combat the pandemic.

"We are also thankful for Pakistan's contribution of medical supplies to help fight coronavirus in the United States," noted the US Embassy statement.

In a rare move in May, the Pakistani government sent medical supplies to the US, in what officials said was a "token of friends and solidarity" with Washington.

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The shipment included 100,000 protective masks and 25,000 coveralls for donation to the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"Appreciate Pakistan's goodwill donation of surgical masks and protective suits to FEMA. This delivery is a symbol of US-Pakistan solidarity in the fight against COVID-19," said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the time.

Pakistan also donated the drug chloroquine to the US when the drug was being explored as a treatment option against coronavirus. The US Food and Drug Administration has since cautioned against the treatment because of heart risks. COVID-19 has infected more than 2.7 million Americans, killing more than 130,000.

US-Pakistan political ties

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan told parliament last week that his country's often uneasy and mistrusted relations with Trump's administration have seen significant improvement over the past two years.

The apparent improvement in bilateral ties stems from Islamabad's close cooperation with Washington to help end two decades of war in neighboring Afghanistan, the scene of America's longest overseas military intervention.

Trump has held three meetings with the Pakistani prime minister since their first interaction at the White House in July 2019. The US president in those meetings repeatedly vowed to enhance bilateral trade and economic ties, and he also offered to mediate Pakistan's Kashmir territorial dispute with rival India.

Pakistani ambassador Khan, while addressing the online forum arranged by the magazine Washington Diplomat, on Thursday said his government was hopeful that Trump in the lead up to the US election will get himself involved in Kashmir diplomacy.  

"We are still convinced today that if any country that can make a difference and can perhaps convince India and basically inject some rationality into their (Indian) actions, it is the United States of America and it is the president of the US," Khan asserted.

India rejected Trump's offer of mediation in line with its stated policy that it is opposed to any third-party intervention and wants to settle the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan with bilateral talks. 

Security lockdown

Military tensions between the two nuclear-armed rival nations have spiked particularly since last August when Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government revoked Kashmir's partial autonomy and imposed a strict security lockdown in the Muslim-majority region to deter violent reaction to its controversial actions.

Islamabad rejected the action as a violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution that recognizes Kashmir as disputed territory and prevents either side from altering its status. India controls two-thirds of the region and Pakistan the rest, with both claiming Kashmir in its totality.