US Diplomat Alice Wells’ Visit to Islamabad: Read My Lips

PKONWEB Report – One of the top US diplomats, Alice Wells, during her visit to Islamabad this week, met with select journalists, think tank representatives and political leaders from various political parties- the same day military’s media wing the ISPR held a presser on the India-Pakistan standoff- and the spokesperson linked the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) protests (cream-cheesed with anti-state diatribes) with fundings from foreign and local facilitators.

On Tuesday, PPP leaders Bilawal, Asif Ali Zardari, Raja Pervez Ashraf and Farhatullah Babar met with the PTM delegation in Islamabad. “The game never ends,” Zardari said in an apparent reference to the ISPR DG’s press conference on Tuesday- the meeting between the PTM and PPP leaders came a day after ISPR DG warned the PTM that no one can fight the state.

Several key statements by the US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia however stand out amid telegraphic dynamics in the region:

1. Steps taken by Islamabad so far to implement the National Action Plan (NAP) are ‘positive’; Gen. Asif Ghafoor that day mentioned around 40,000 Madrassas (religious schools) being brought into the mainstream in an institutionalized way by bringing all of them under the Ministry of Education albiet.

Wells said the steps the government had so far taken to implement the NAP were ‘positive.’ The government had briefed the diplomatic corps and international community on the detention of leaders of proscribed groups, the seizure of assets and provincial control over some of the physical infrastructure’, she noted.

2. Declaring terrorists attacking Pakistan as United States’ enemies, Wells said the US does not have the ‘evidence’ suggesting India is using the Afghan soil to destabilize Pakistan, and that it had no information regarding the Army’s latest statement that the Afghan National Directorate of Security Afghan (NDS) and the Indian Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) were funding the PTM.

The statement appears to suggest that the US is not convinced with Pakistan’s narrative on India. Both India and US are defense, strategic and security partners in the region since 2004- some observers say the relationship forged between the two over a decade is China-centric though.

3. General Asif Ghafoor that very day laid out a charge sheet against the PTM leadership. One of the allegations leveled against the now well-organized group from Waziristan was about getting funded by the NDS and the RAW.

Nevertheless, Wells tried to make it clear that the US would never condone or support any use of “terrorist proxies against another country”. Her followup statement that “any terrorist attacking Pakistan is enemy of ours and we share very strong counterterrorism objectives in defeating extremist forces,” was well taken though. When her attention was drawn towards Pakistan’s concerns regarding India’s role in creating trouble in Balochistan, she urged regional countries to respect each other’s sovereignty without naming India. One Pakistani defense official in the Middle East though referred to Iran vis-a-vis Afghanistan, when asked to comment on Wells’ statement.

“We recognize and respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan. We do not support any separatist or irredentist movements,” Wells said, adding, “We think it’s critical that nations of this region respect one another and work to achieve peace and economic growth.” She could have been pointing to Iran as the nation (again) braces against Trump’s “zero-tolerance” sanctions fallout.

Fox News wrote the same day: “Trump has declared the landmark 2015 agreement “horrible,” leaving the Iranian government flush with cash to fuel conflict in the Middle East. Iran has accused the U.S. of reneging on the nuclear agreement, signed by the Obama administration, and of causing Iranian economic unrest”.

The Iranian government is responding defiantly. 4. Wells also shared her views about the prospects of resumption of dialogue between Pakistan and India after tpolls are over in the neighboring country. The diplomat linked the progress to Pakistan’s commitment to not allowing its territory to be used against India- America’s partner in the wider Asian region.Said Oscar (a senior defense expert) on condition of anonymity that Pakistan’s future will be defined by: 1. Balochistan in politico military doman, 2. Economy in politico military domain.5. The gigantic China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) undertaken by ‘iron brothers’ Pakistan and China, snakes through the restive province saddling Arabian Sea and less than 100 miles (crow’s flight) northeast of the Middle East. Not many are happy about the bonhomie.When asked to specify US concerns regarding the CPEC, Wells said while Washington did not object to infrastructure investment by China, the question remained whether such projects met international standards. She argued that such investments should be transparent, sustainable and should produce benefits for the country.

“So any concern that we have over CPEC projects is with regards to the transparency, the efficacy and the sustainability of the loans,” she explained. “This is an issue that is not Pakistan specific. We have expressed this concern about belt and road initiative (BRI) more broadly. We welcome the infrastructure investment by China and by all countries so far it advances the prosperity of the countries involved”. 6. As US-Taliban talks inch forward (again), Wells underscored the importance of all actors in the region (read India) takings steps to advance security, stability, and cooperation in South Asia.Pakistan has rendered its full support to direct talks between the U.S. and the Taliban. U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, has concluded two days of official discussions in Islamabad on how to advance the Afghan peace process- the peace talks are mired in mistrust and hinges on ceasefire or withdrawal, whichever one comes first, meaning who blinks first.“We are seeking peace and (a) political settlement … We want peace to give us the possibility to withdraw,”  said Khalilzad a day earlier to Tolo News, and who’s accompanying Ms. Wells to Islamabad.