- Ms Wells makes a last attempt
Outgoing US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Alice Wells sprang no surprises in a farewell news briefing on Wednesday, but some of the points she made were interesting signs of the direction US policy in the region might take. Her saying that Pakistan had an interest in advancing the Afghan peace process comes as a useful reminder when recent events in Afghanistan have put that process in jeopardy. Those events showed that there are forces on both sides opposed to a settlement, the Kabul government on the US side, and IS fighters on the side of the resistance. Pakistan’s interest lies in a settlement, as does that of the rest of the region.
Another point Ms Wells tried to make was that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor was funded by Chinese loans and that Pakistan’s difficulties during the present pandemic required relief for this debt. The USA has all along tried to portray China as an unfair and rapacious creditor, and has never made its dislike of the CPEC obvious. Ambassador Wells is clearly following through on the Trump Administration’s rivalry with China, which has extended to President Donald Trump himself blaming China for the coronavirus pandemic. This has come amidst a storm of criticism of his handling of the pandemic, in contrast to China’s savvy handling, which has led many observers to comment that China has emerged as a world leader, unlike the USA. It seems that the US response will not just be limited to its attacks on China and the World Health Organization, but also to sniping at China’s Belt and Road Initiative, of which CPEC is a key component. Apart from that, the USA has been propping up India as a counterweight to China in the region, and views Pakistan’s relations with China as a threat to that.
Ambassador Wells’ remarks should make Pakistan’s policymakers aware that the USA regards Pakistan as important because of its need to get out of Afghanistan, and because it intends to pursue its rivalry with China to the end. How Pakistan intends to navigate these troublous waters will require more care than shown so far.