Ambassador Alice Wells, the Principal Deputy Secretary of State for South and Central Asia while speaking about China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) last Thursday called its southern section the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) a high stake risk for China and Pakistan. She showed concern as America’s top strategic rival is expanding its investment and influence in a country where the US is now less present and less popular.
She made her observations on CPEC about its cost, debt, transparency, and jobs and hoped that the people of Pakistan will ask Beijing tough questions and insist on transparency of this expensive project. She went on further saying that the US had a better model for the improvement of Pakistan’s economy.
Strong Rebuke from Pakistan and China
It was probably for the first time that a senior US official publicly criticized BRI and the CPEC. The critic got a prompt response from both China and Pakistan. Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Mr Yao Jing blamed Ms Wells for lack of knowledge and her stance based on Western propaganda to the level of accusations. He said, “I would like to remind my American colleague that if you are really making this kind of allegation, please be careful, show your evidence and we will take action.” He further said that Beijing will never force Islamabad to repay its loans in time, unlike the IMF.
Pakistan calls the Corridor a game-changer for its economy in a critical state. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi rejected the apprehensions of Alice Wells by saying that the multi-billion dollar CPEC project will continue for the economic growth of his country and the US objections will not affect it.
Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting, termed the US concerns baseless and resolved to continue with the corridor which would open a pathway of development for the entire region. Minister Planning, Asad Umar too was prompt in brushing aside the US concern by calling it a wrong analysis.
Why Exactly is the US Getting Unpopular in Pakistan?
US Principal Deputy Secretary of State must be having the facts of the past in her mind while referring to Pakistan as a country where the US is now less popular. Unfortunately, the US had become untrustworthy in the eyes of common Pakistanis and they have reasons for this understanding.
Pakistanis mention the Soviet-Afghan war of 1979 won with the help of their country and which made the US the sole superpower after disintegration of the USSR. But the US left its ally alone facing the burden of four million Afghan refugees. The US used Pakistan for a purpose before abandoning it, only to take it up for another expedient for its War on Terror.
Yet again, it failed to provide expenses for repair of the road infrastructure that depleted through continuous use of over 15 years for providing logistics to NATO and US troops in Afghanistan. CPEC, on the other hand, provides an opportunity to Pakistanis to repair and rebuild these roads and highways.
The unjustified and one-sided sanctions imposed by the US on Pakistan after it was forced to go nuclear in 1998 in response to nuclear tests and threats of its arch-rival India were another reason for the declining US popularity.
The unfortunate story of depriving of 28 F-16 aircraft Pakistanis had paid for, that the US demurred reimbursing, charged for storage and gave wheat and soybean oil instead of, is still fresh in their minds. Some Pakistanis are even waiting for the US Seventh Fleet to arrive and assist its longtime strategic partner against a wicked ally of the then USSR.
China, meanwhile, is considered a friend that has always supported Pakistan in the hour of need. The people of Pakistan call the Sino-Pak friendship higher than the Himalayas, deeper than oceans and sweeter than honey. The Karakoram Highway, cooperation in manufacturing of the fighter jet JF-17 Thunder and CPEC are considered the result of this friendship. China always went for investment in Pakistan contrary to the US which opted for giving aid. The US aid, the common Pakistanis think, has gone into the coffers of their corrupt rulers.
This is a New Pakistan
The US must appreciate that the “New Pakistan” understands the importance of trade and investment and this was a point highlighted by Prime Minister Imran Khan to the top leadership of the US during his latest official visit. CPEC is a great example of trade and investment from China. It is expected that the US will appreciate its importance for boosting the economy of Pakistan rather than create doubts for its longtime strategic partner in the region.