ISLAMABAD: There is no truth in the regime change allegations; the present Pakistani government is finding ways to put the economy back on the track; all investments in Pakistan, whether American or Chinese, should be transparent and subjected to same scrutiny.
These views were expressed by the United States Ambassador to Pakistan, Donald Blome, in an exclusive interview with The News and Jang. The US ambassador described the rampant conspiracy theories like that of regime change as unfortunate. Dwelling on this particular point, the ambassador said that the US enjoyed a long and very important relationship with Pakistan. “We want to see an independent, prosperous and strong Pakistan. That’s what we believe is in our interest and in the interest of the region. As for the allegations, there is absolutely no truth in that. We have spoken to them, myself and in Washington. I am very much hopeful that we can get past this and back into the important work that we have to do, to work together on some issues right now facing the world and our two countries”.
Regarding the question on Washington’s oft-discussed demand for air bases in Pakistan, Donald Blome responded: “I can tell you there were no discussions about air bases, one way or another.” He also used the term ‘no discussions, at all, about the bases’ during his time in the job here.
“I am here for the last four months and this has not been an issue on my agenda. Our agenda here is pretty clear. It has to do with building and broadening economic, trade and investment relationship and working on climate change, which has obviously become a pressing issue right now besides working on energy transformation which is important for Pakistan and also for the planet. In terms of security, both the countries have strong relationship.”
To a question regarding concerns on Pakistan’s nuclear programme, the US ambassador replied: “Regional security is such an important issue right now for Pakistan, for its neighbours and the world. We are committed to working with Pakistan, in any way, to reduce tensions and look for ways to resolve regional disputes peacefully. I think it is really important to look for ways to build confidence between the states and the neighbours. That certainly means to find ways to discuss the issues and try to find ways to resolve the incredibly pressing challenges.”
Blome stated further: “We have broad concerns about proliferation and we are working very hard and we are much committed to the non-proliferation principles to finding ways to reduce the threats of nuclear weapons around the world. It continues to be high on the agenda of the US administration. We had a good and open discussion with Pakistani authorities on the range of security issues, including those issues. We worked with Pakistan on nuclear issues on a variety of international fora. We worked with Pakistan directly in the IAEA. We participate together in the global initiatives to combat nuclear terrorism. We worked together on UN efforts to prevent WMD proliferation. We just have to build strong blocks on those issues.”
How would the US like to help Pakistan in addressing its energy problems and whether the US would consider entering into a civil nuclear deal with Pakistan, the ambassador was asked. He replied, “We are committed to working with Pakistan, addressing all of its growing energy needs. We need to find compatible ways with Pakistan’s economic, environmental and security needs and, of course, with US international commitments, laws and policies. We haven’t entered into negotiations on a civilian nuclear agreement with Pakistan. We are committed to Pakistan in addressing its energy needs.”
Answering a question that former premier Imran Khan has demanded an inquiry into the cipher issue as a precondition for his return to the parliament, Blome said: “So, it is not my position really to talk about whether the inquiry should be made or not. I can’t speak on his statement. I don’t have too much to add. We don’t read out the routine diplomatic meetings. What I can say is certainly it’s the norm of diplomatic business of any ambassador, meeting here or in Washington”.
“To have these kinds of discussions about issues, whether we agree or not, it is a standard business of diplomacy. I think again it is really important for us to pass this right now”. Answering a question whether he has ever met the former Pakistani premier, Imran Khan, the ambassador told these scribes that he had not met Imran Khan.
Alluding to US-Pakistan cooperation in other vital areas, the ambassador said: “First of all, US-Pakistan ties have a long history and they are broad based. We are looking to do is to align, as much as possible, with the Pakistani government, its development strategies. We have done it historically whether it is support for health services, integration in the newly emerged areas. We will continue to do that. Our assistance to Pakistan has increased over the past year and we are one of the largest providers of civilian assistance, worked across the areas I mentioned which no other country is providing grant-based assistance to Pakistan than us. According to Pakistan’s EAD, the total US assistance to Pakistan during the last 60 years is more than $32.5 billion, which is pretty significant. We feel really proud of the things we have recently done. We donated 77 million vaccine doses which recently kicked off a drive on the paediatric vaccines. It is going to help millions of Pakistani children who will get vaccinated. We are providing them the testing labs, really high-tech ways to strengthen the disease surveillance. Looking into the future, as I talked about building trade and investment ties, US companies are Pakistan’s largest employers as 80 US companies directly employed 120,000 Pakistanis. Indirectly, they support another million Pakistani jobs. US companies foster transparent and competitive business environment, adhering to higher international standards.
“We have a long history on accomplishment on expanding access to clean water and sanitation services. We count about three million people in KP province and in Sindh. We built and repaired 1,700 schools since 2011, trained 91,000 teachers and we bring 800 Pakistani students to the US, every year in educational exchange programmes and have a lot high-level of 37,000 Pakistanis who are very active representatives. Looking out at the future, there are a number of areas we need to work together. It’s already strong and large perhaps a huge potential that we can work on. The second is Pakistan’s energy transformation and independence. Pakistan made some important commitments to transform its energy sector to using indigenous sources of energy, vitally important, especially in today’s world of inflation and prices of imported fuels. We can work together and help Pakistan on that.”
The ambassador talked about the US companies’ financing options in this context and went on to add, “Obviously, another one is climate resilience. This is the notion that we have to build back better an infrastructure resilient to the climate disasters in the future. And the last area which we need to work together on is the education and we could have a strong foundation on education. I mentioned some of those statistics but looking at Pakistan’s future growth potential, it is going to require Pakistan to find ways to make sure that young people have every opportunity to participate in the global economy. They have to get the baseline in education and opportunities to participate in a rapidly changing world economy.”
The ambassador was then asked about relief assistance vis-à-vis the devastating floods in a large part of Pakistan. According to Blome, “We have given about $56.5 million in an initial UN appeal. And, recently, the Secretary of State, has announced an additional $10 million particularly focused on food security that would go to seeds and fertilisers for farmers and repair of flood-damaged irrigation infrastructure. The money that we have already disbursed, it has been done through the UN agencies like UNDP, UNICEF and WFP. We are also working through a number of International NGOs”.
On a question about moratorium on debts repayments, the ambassador said: “We are certainly sympathetic to need for Pakistan to find ways to deal with its deferred debts. Pakistan doesn’t have an enormous amount of debt with the United States in particular. So, the Paris Club debt is relatively small amount. It is how the US would be working with Pakistan to defer payments. Our portion of debt is small. Certainly, we want to help Pakistan to navigate this very difficult period”.
The ambassador was asked as to which particular political party was responsible for the recent economic turmoil in Pakistan.
The ambassador replied: “It’s a very complex question. it is not easy for many countries around the world to answer this question. There are a few fundamental pieces of this that they were lined up in a correct way which could make an enormous impact on Pakistan’s economic future. One, of course, is that Pakistan has to find a way to manage its finances properly and that has been bound up in negotiations with the IMF programme and some other negotiations with other international lenders right now. I give a lot of credit to the Pakistani government, finding ways to put the economy back on the track”.
At this juncture, the ambassador was asked whether the present government was to be given credit on this count, he replied: “Absolutely, it is a significant accomplishment. The IMF is working with different governments for years. Fundamentally, I think it is important to think about the IMF programme in the framework what the national interests are and finding ways to manage the national budgets that doesn’t create a cycle of repeated crises and that is precisely what the IMF reform programme is trying to break the debt-damaging cycle, not just of Pakistan but also of any other country of the world. The question is that it’s hard in the short term but in the long term, it is vitally important that Pakistan is trying to manage the way and to generate the economic growth of the country. Having stable finances is a foundation for it but it is not sufficient. I think it is going to be important for Pakistan to find new ways to attract the international investment here. I think Pakistan should be in a conversation about shifting pattern of international trade right now. The supply chain which is rapidly transforming around the world and a number of countries in the region, are taking advantage of that. I think Pakistan has enormous potential for that. It’s a kind of place with a human capital and its expertise. It’s a kind of a place where international manufacturers’ chains could have important decisions and contribute significantly in Pakistan’s future”.
Taking a question on the post-withdrawal Afghanistan situation, the ambassador said: “We had very good cooperation with Pakistan on that, not only to the withdrawal last year but subsequently to that, we are trying to find out ways to help Afghans who tried to go abroad and many of them have been settled in the United States now. It’s actually a very strong relationship with Pakistan and we deal with the issues practically”.
Regarding terrorists’ attacks in Pakistan from the Afghan soil, Donald Blome said: “Obviously, we have enormous concerns about the threat of terrorism emanating out of Afghanistan. Pakistan is, of course, on the frontline, and has its own significant concerns. Pakistan continuously suffered and paid price of terrorism. We are, at all, work together in the international community to ensure that the Taliban understand their commitments they made in Doha and need to be respected and all its neighbours need to be safe from threats of terrorism. This is a fundamental responsibility and commitment that owes to Taliban to do”.
Regarding President Biden’s announcement that the US would supply F-16 parts to Pakistan, the US envoy said that US-Pak relationship and engagement were very strong in terms of defence. “We increased the pace of bilateral exercises. We did the Falcon Talon Exercise in March. We did the Inspired Union naval exercises in April. We had eight naval ships visited last year to Pakistan. These are all signs of continued, strong relationship and cooperation with Pakistan. Our training programmes remained very vigorous and strong for decades. The combined, joint maritime forces in Arabian Sea patrolled together at the international waters to protect against pirates and terrorism.
“Actually, Pakistan has commanded joint maritime forces 20 times more than any other country. Security partnership has broadly remained very strong in terms of defence transfers and security assistance that are continued on case by case basis. Where we are determined to serve the interests of both parties and we make an announcement regarding the F-16s. F-16 programme is a long-term commitment, a long-term partnership. We want to help Pakistan to maintain and that’s what is represented in that (Biden’s) announcement.”
Blome was also asked that President Biden has recently talked about expansion of UN Security Council, whether your country would support the inclusion of India as a permanent member. The envoy replied: “I don’t have anything to add to what President Biden said about the expansion of UN Security Council. So, I just leave it with his statement in New York”.
He was asked that Pakistan needs to diversify its economic relations with prosperous countries of the region, which obviously include China, what reservations does the Washington administration have towards Pak-China cooperation or CPEC? Blome replied: “It’s important to clarify that the US, in no way, asks Pakistan or any other country to choose a single economic partner, bloc or anything else like that. Now the important thing here is that we stress that international trade and investment should be based on international standards of transparency.
“Frankly, the US and China have very complex economic relationships for many, many years but we want to ensure that our relationship with China is based on those principles of transparency and fairness and equal treatment. I think that’s a question for Pakistan and it is not necessarily our issue but problems we have seen that have arisen in the region and the world where sustainability and debts have become an issue for many countries. Again depending on that quality of investment and transparency, that’s I think, is a broad concern that we have in many places, not just here. The issue really is what kind of investment is being made in Pakistan. Is it being made on fair and equal basis? I think all investments being made here should be subjected to same scrutiny, whether it is American, Chinese or any other investment in Pakistan”.
To a question if Imran Khan comes into power again, how would the US take it, the US ambassador said: “Absolutely, we would work with whatever government the Pakistani people select. This is the principle on which we operate everywhere, not just in Pakistan. So, again, we work with the Pakistani government which Pakistani people choose.”
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