Afghan un­rest puts mil­i­tary, mon­e­tary in­vest­ments at risk

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY GUY TAY­LOR AND CARLO MUÑOZ

Pak­istan’s mil­i­tary has swept ter­ror­ist groups from the na­tion’s once-lawless tribal ar­eas, but the gains could be put at risk if the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion across the border in Afghanistan is not brought un­der con­trol, Islamabad’s diplo­mat in Washington said, stress­ing that his na­tion is wait­ing for the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to clar­ify its strat­egy for the Afghanistan con­flict.

Am­bas­sador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said his coun­try’s rep­u­ta­tion as a source of in­sta­bil­ity and a haven for ji­hadis is badly out of date. He ar­gued that Pak­istan’s econ­omy is on a sharp up­swing and that re­la­tions with Washington are stronger to­day than at any other time since the covert Amer­i­can com­mando raid that killed al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in his Pak­istani hide­out six years ago.

“There are some per­cep­tions which are not fully up to speed with the new re­al­ity of Pak­istan, a re­al­ity that has changed only very re­cently,” Mr. Chaudhry told ed­i­tors and re­porters of The Washington Times. “We have re­versed the tide of ter­ror­ism, which had come down heavy on us.”

Hav­ing just ar­rived in Washington in March, Mr. Chaudhry took care to nei­ther openly praise nor crit­i­cize the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s for­eign pol­icy. As “an hon­ored guest” of the U.S., he is ea­ger to deal with the man whom Amer­i­can vot­ers chose as their pres­i­dent, he said.

At the same time, he said Pak­istan was a strong sup­porter of the global Paris cli­mate ac­cord. Pres­i­dent Trump with­drew the U.S. from the agree­ment last week.

“There are is­sues on which Pak­istan has its own po­si­tions re­gard­less of what the U.S. po­si­tion is,” said Mr. Chaudhry, not­ing that Pak­istan is at risk of flood­ing as Hi­malayan glaciers melt. “We sup­ported the Paris talks. We com­mit­ted to it.”

On another front, the am­bas­sador went to lengths to credit China just as much as Washington for help­ing spur re­mark­able eco­nomic progress. Pak­istan’s econ­omy is on pace to grow at an an­nual 6 per­cent rate next year, and predictions say it could emerge among the world’s top 20 by 2030 — a dra­matic rise from its cur­rent rank in the 40s.

The stock mar­ket in the pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim na­tion of roughly 200 mil­lion peo­ple is boom­ing, said Mr. Chaudhry.

The big­gest for­eign in­vest­ment — some $60 bil­lion in re­cent years — is from Bei­jing, which sees Pak­istan as a key con­duit for de­vel­op­ment in China’s mainly Mus­lim west­ern re­gion, he said. China has poured money into en­ergy projects aimed at eas­ing Pak­istan’s elec­tric­ity short­ages.

But the bold­est in­vest­ment is the de­vel­op­ment of a ma­jor deep-sea port in Gwadar, de­signed to open Pak­istan’s south­ern coast­line to trade routes in the Ara­bian Sea and In­dian Ocean, a crit­i­cal link in Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s “One Belt One Road” growth strat­egy for wider Asia and be­yond.

Mo­ment of sta­bil­ity

The Chi­nese in­vest­ments have co­in­cided with a rare mo­ment of po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity in Pak­istan, af­ter the na­tion’s first-ever suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion from one demo­crat­i­cally elected gov­ern­ment to another in 2013.

The tran­si­tion of power, which brought back for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif, fol­lowed decades of mil­i­tary coups, as­sas­si­na­tions and other up­heaval, in­clud­ing mas­sive anti-cor­rup­tion demon­stra­tions that marred the na­tion’s 66-year his­tory.

Over the past decade, the in­sta­bil­ity was spiked by a bloody cam­paign of sui­cide bomb­ings and other at­tacks by al Qaeda and other ji­hadi groups on civil­ian and gov­ern­ment tar­gets. But an ag­gres­sive coun­tert­er­ror­ism cam­paign launched by the Sharif gov­ern­ment in the north­west Fed­er­ally Ad­min­is­tered Tribal Ar­eas has sharply re­duced such vi­o­lence, Mr. Chaudhry said.

“The num­ber of ter­ror­ist in­ci­dents, which used to be very high, up to 150 ter­ror­ist in­ci­dents per month on the av­er­age right up to 2014, is to­day down to sin­gle dig­its,” the am­bas­sador said. “That has sent a very pos­i­tive … wave all across the coun­try.”

Mr. Chaudhry said hopes are high that for­eign in­vest­ment will grow amid prospects for another smooth tran­si­tion af­ter elec­tions next year.

Pak­istan’s im­prov­ing eco­nomic pic­ture means that “the Kore­ans, the Turks, the Euro­pean and cor­po­rate Amer­ica are also com­ing in,” with en­ergy plants be­ing built along the na­tion’s south­ern coast­line. “The next phase for us is to build a se­ries of in­dus­trial zones,” he said. “We are ex­pect­ing and at­tract­ing in­vest­ments, and many of the Euro­pean coun­tries are par­tic­u­larly keen.

“So with our la­bor, the Chi­nese want to bring in cap­i­tal, and if the tech­nol­ogy can come in from the West, I think it would be an ideal com­bi­na­tion for ev­ery­body,” the am­bas­sador said.

The U.S. has sent roughly $2 bil­lion a year in aid to Pak­istan in the past two decades. The ma­jor­ity of the money was aimed at sup­port­ing the Pak­istani mil­i­tary. But Mr. Chaudhry said cor­po­rate Amer­ica is be­gin­ning to sense op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“I think they are able to see what, per­haps, you and I are not able to see,” he said.

Gen­eral Elec­tric Co. re­cently won a project bid to gen­er­ate 3,600 megawatts of elec­tric­ity in Pak­istan, and Exxon Mo­bil Corp. has put to­gether a con­sor­tium to spend roughly $800 mil­lion to build a liq­ue­fied nat­u­ral gas ter­mi­nal and “gasi­fy­ing plant” near the new south­ern sea­port.

“[It’s] why Proc­ter and Gam­ble is there, why Pep­siCo is there, why many com­pa­nies are go­ing there,” Mr. Chaudhry said. “They’re not go­ing be­cause they want to put their money at risk; they are go­ing there be­cause they can see that there is some money to be made.”

The trou­ble next door

But the am­bas­sador stressed that all of Pak­istan’s re­gional and eco­nomic am­bi­tions could be de­railed if the sit­u­a­tion con­tin­ues to de­te­ri­o­rate in neigh­bor­ing Afghanistan, where the num­ber of at­tacks by ex­trem­ists, in­clud­ing the Is­lamic State, is on the rise.

On Wed­nes­day, a mas­sive truck bomb rocked the heav­ily for­ti­fied diplo­matic quar­ter of Kabul, killing 90 peo­ple and un­der­scor­ing the chal­lenge fac­ing Afghan lead­ers and Amer­i­can and Pak­istani of­fi­cials seek­ing to sta­bi­lize the war-torn coun­try, Mr. Chaudhry said.

“How does the United States want to deal with their huge in­vest­ment in Afghanistan, both mil­i­tar­ily and eco­nom­i­cally? We are wait­ing for it,” the am­bas­sador said. He was re­fer­ring to a highly an­tic­i­pated shift in U.S. strat­egy that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has said will be an­nounced in the com­ing weeks.

“We think that the United States also wants to sta­bi­lize Afghanistan,” he said. “Why? Be­cause you have in­vested hugely in blood and in trea­sure for the last 15 to 16 years [there].”

One plan re­port­edly be­ing cir­cu­lated through the White House and the Pen­tagon calls for up to 5,000 more U.S. troops, with a match­ing com­mit­ment from NATO, which could bring to roughly 15,000 the to­tal num­ber of for­eign troops in Afghanistan.

Mr. Chaudhry did not take an ex­plicit po­si­tion on a pro­posed troop in­crease but said any use of mil­i­tary force should be tied to a push for a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion to the con­flict in Afghanistan. Such a push, he said, should in­clude the pur­suit of a peace process with the Tal­iban.

The ji­hadi in­sur­gent group, which once har­bored al Qaeda and bin Laden in Afghanistan, has ex­tended its grip on ter­ri­tory since U.S. forces ended their com­bat mis­sion in Afghanistan in 2014.

A “mod­est surge” of Amer­i­can forces now, said Mr. Chaudhry, might pres­sure the Tal­iban to em­brace peace talks with the U.S.-backed gov­ern­ment in Kabul that have stalled for years. “Once [the Tal­iban] are weak­ened, they will come to the ta­ble,” the am­bas­sador pre­dicted, but he said the Afghan gov­ern­ment should lead the peace process.

Pak­istan’s prox­im­ity to the sit­u­a­tion is del­i­cate. De­spite its in­ter­nal suc­cess against ji­hadi groups over the past three years, Islamabad faces ac­cu­sa­tions that its in­tel­li­gence ser­vices are clan­des­tinely back­ing cer­tain ex­trem­ist groups in­side Afghanistan.

Pak­istan also har­bors mil­lions of Afghan refugees. The am­bas­sador said Islamabad hopes they will be al­lowed to re­turn home soon.

Afghan in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials claimed that one that of those groups, the Haqqani net­work, was re­spon­si­ble for the at­tack in Kabul last week.

Mr. Chaudhry ve­he­mently re­jected the ac­cu­sa­tion dur­ing his in­ter­view with The Times. “Pak­istan has ab­so­lutely noth­ing to do with the Haqqa­nis and the Tal­iban,” he said. “They do not rep­re­sent the views of my peo­ple … and we have squeezed the space on them” in Pak­istan.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

‘HON­ORED GUEST’ Am­bas­sador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said Pak­istan’s econ­omy is on an up­swing and he is ea­ger to work with with Pres­i­dent Trump.

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