ISLAMABAD: The Trump administration’s outgoing point person for South and Central Asia Alice Wells on Wednesday praised Pakistan for “solid cooperation” for peace in Afghanistan and emphasised that future of bilateral ties depended on Islamabad’s continued support.
“We have seen over the last year, solid cooperation between Amb Khalilzad and the Pakistani civilian and military leadership to encourage the Taliban to take steps to reach the negotiating table,” Ambassador Wells said during an online media briefing in which she reviewed and reflected on US policies in the region during the past three years.
Amb Wells, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs at the State Department, is retiring this month. This was possibly her last official media engagement.
“The advancement and improvement and the foundation for a stronger US-Pakistan partnership is premised on our ability to work together constructively to advance peace,” she underscored.
Recalling how the United States upped the pressure on Pakistan to deliver on its counter-terrorism expectations, the retiring senior diplomat said President Trump’s strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia unequivocally made it clear to Pakistan that it needed to take “decisive action” against groups, and the subsequent suspension of security assistance demonstrated Washington’s “resolve”.
“Since then we have seen constructive steps by Pakistan to encourage the Taliban to advance the Afghan peace process. Pakistan has also taken initial steps towards curtailing terrorist groups that threaten the region, such as arresting and prosecuting the LeT leader Hafiz Saeed and beginning to dismantle terrorist financing structures,” she further said.
Amb Wells said that the US-Pakistan ties, especially bilateral trade, expanded as Islamabad’s commitment to peace in the region grew.
She said continuing violence in Afghanistan was at an “unacceptable level”.
Noting that progress to intra-Afghan political negotiations in the peace process had been difficult, she said it was the responsibility of the Taliban to reduce violence.
Amb Wells urged the Afghan government and the Taliban to jointly fight Covid-19 and ISIS-Khorasan that has carried out numerous “ruthless and evil attacks” including last week’s attack on a maternity centre in Kabul in which mothers and newborns were killed.
The peace process, she reminded, was difficult, but obstacles have to be overcome.
The US diplomat said India’s role in Afghanistan was crucial. The importance Washington attached to India with regards to its Afghan policy, she said, was evident from Amb Khalilzad continuing consultations with Indian leaders on the issue.
“Obviously, it’s up to India to determine how best to support the peace process. India is a very important actor in Afghanistan, $3 billion in assistance that has already been pledged, touched every province, the diplomatic and political support that India traditionally has provided to Afghans. … India’s going to be a critical player and is a critical player,” she said.
CHINA: Amb Wells repeated her criticism of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its flagship project China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and urged Beijing to relieve the countries involved in these undertakings of its “predatory loans”.
She said the US calls on “China to offer transparent relief from the BRI’s predatory loans that countries are suffering from, emerge on stable footing.”
Amb Wells reiterated the US was concerned about CPEC projects because of lack of transparency, and the unfair rates of profits that are guaranteed to Chinese firms involved in their execution.
Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2020