WASHINGTON: Ahead of his appearance at a Congressional panel on Tuesday, US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu submitted a written statement expressing Washington’s concerns about irregularities in the Feb 8 elections while also emphasising the need to stay engaged with Pakistan to help it navigate through the crises it is facing.

Mr Lu is the diplomat whose supposed warning to former Pakistan Ambassador to the US Asad Majeed was the subject of a cipher sent by the envoy to Islamabad. This is the same document that former PM Imran Khan used to allege a US conspiracy to oust his government in 2022, and Mr Khan is currently on trial for mishandling the same confidential document.

Mr Lu is scheduled to testify today before a subcommittee of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, at a hearing titled ‘Pakistan After the Elections: Examining the Future of Democracy in Pakistan and the US-Pakistan Relationship’.

This bipartisan hearing is expected to draw significant attendance from both Democratic and Repub­lican legislators.

US diplomat stresses need to help Islamabad navigate economic challenges

In his written testimony, Mr Lu highlights Washington’s concerns about election irregularities in Pakistan, which encompass restrictions on freedoms, electoral violence, and allegations of interference.

He also mentions that several political leaders faced obstacles, such as the inability to register specific candidates and political parties, which disadvantaged them in the electoral process.

Additionally, he highlights the harassment and abuse faced by many journalists, particularly female journalists, at the hands of party supporters.

However, he also acknowledges positive aspects, such as a significant turnout of over 60 million voters, including more than 21 million women, and a record number of women and minority candidates.

His statement emphasises the importance of fortifying Pakistan’s democratic institutions and fostering economic stability through avenues such as development grants, private sector investment, and humanitarian aid. He also recognises Pakistan’s mounting debt challenges and stresses the necessity of economic reforms and private sector-led investments to spur economic growth.

Underscoring the significance of counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan, Mr Lu also advocates for respecting human rights and religious freedoms. Additionally, he commits to collaborating with the subcommittee to implement US policy in Pakistan and advance a vision of a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous nation.

The written testimony, uploaded to the House subcommittee’s website a day ahead of the hearing, notes that Islamabad is an important US partner, being the top destination for Pakistan’s exports.

“Unfortunately, Pakistan is facing mounting debt challenges after the past decade of elevated borrowing, including from [China]. This year, nearly 70 per cent of the federal government’s revenue is expected to go to payments to service this massive debt,” Mr Lu says, explaining why the US needs to stay engaged with Pakistan.

“Pakistan needs economic reforms and private sector-led investments that will deliver economic growth for the Pakistani people and not dig their government deeper into debt,” he adds.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2024

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