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Jun 05, 2020 PRINT EDITION
Editorials

All's never well when Wells appears

This is not the first time that the now outgoing Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia at the US Department of State, Alice Wells, has tried to protect Pakistan's interests by speaking out against the China Pakistan Econ

May 24, 2020

This is not the first time that the now outgoing Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia at the US Department of State, Alice Wells, has tried to protect Pakistan's interests by speaking out against the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and especially, according to her, the "predatory, unsustainable and unfair" Chinese lending to Pakistan over the past few years. She came out with a pretty stiff warning in November as well, though one not laced with nearly as many adjectives, which both Beijing and Islamabad immediately rejected and thought that was the end of the matter. It seems the "lack of transparency involved in the (CPEC) projects" and "unfair rates of profits guaranteed to the Chinese organisations" is giving Washington sleepless nights as it worries about all the "distortions caused to Pakistan's economy, including the massive imbalance of trade between Pakistan and China". She could have gone on and explained just how the Americans knew about all the "unfair profits" that we have guaranteed to the Chinese especially since the deal suffers, as she herself put it, from a terrible "lack of transparency". But she didn't, and we knew she wouldn't. And it's indeed very nice of Ambassador Wells to worry about our trade deficit with China, but perhaps she should add an interesting bit of information about Pakistan to her databank before she retires next month. Being a small economy with very little if any value-added exports, we are in the habit of suffering from big trade deficits whenever we indulge in commerce with well-to-do countries.
We know all too well, of course, that this was just the latest in a series of frustrated outbursts from an administration that decided to paint China as the arch villain even before President Trump took oath of office. He was literally spitting venom about China, especially its economic policies, throughout the campaign trail. Then, as president-elect, he deliberately made controversial remarks about Taiwan, to upset the Communist Party of China. Then, with very little justification, he initiated a trade war with China that broke supply chains across the world long before the pandemic, putting unnecessary speed breakers in the path of the international market that was making fresh highs pretty much every other quarter. And now the leader of the free world is holding China responsible for "deliberately" manufacturing the coronavirus in a laboratory in Wuhan, even though very few people even in his own administration are willing to back such an outlandish claim. Alice Wells, needless to say, was not one of the hundreds or thousands of State Department employees that chose to resign rather than serve the misdirected White House of Donald Trump a few years ago, so she's naturally part of the team that sees anything and everything related to China as fair game. If nothing else, even as she bows out, her flank attacks might just give the president the momentum to win another term.
Even other than China, the more Ambassador Wells spoke about the Trump administration's South Asia Policy, the more it seemed like the White House was still stuck in another time. Pakistan has already won its own war against terrorism and dismantled whatever infrastructure of militancy was left in the tribal area. And surely Islamabad does not need to remind Washington of just how crucial a role it played in helping to bring the long, ugly Afghan war to an end by getting the Taliban to the negotiating table. It was not easy, of course, not the least because the insurgents were gaining ground since at least the 2006-07 spring offensive and had no reason to back down from their own timetable of winning the war. The ambassador also wanted Pakistan to understand, once and for all, that India was going to be "an important partner in Afghanistan's development". That, from Pakistan's point of view, is unacceptable. No doubt India has long been active in Afghanistan and also assisted the old Northern Alliance against the Taliban in the 1990s. More recently, though, it didn't take long even for Kabul to understand that New Delhi's friendship, its ties with Afghan intelligence, even its help to the Pakistani Taliban holed up in Afghanistan, had just one simple purpose and that was to needle Pakistan. Perhaps Ambassador Wells should convey an important, and pretty clear, message to the White House. Pakistan's friendship with China is ironclad and neither country has any interest in exploiting the other. And there is no way that India will be allowed to undermine the Afghan peace process and pin the blame on Pakistan.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020