• Secretary of State’s aide says US worried by Islamabad’s path as nations entering into deals with China ‘don’t end up well’

WASHINGTON: The United States doesn’t ask Pakis­tan to choose between it and China, but rather wants cou­ntries “to be able to have a choice”. However, Washington is worried that nations entering into relationships with China “are not going to end up well”, said Derek Chollet, a senior adviser to the US Secretary of State.

In an interview with Dawn, Counselor Chollet said Washing­ton was not “afraid of competing with China, but would like to have a fair competition”.

He stressed that the US had honest differences with both India and Pakistan, but wanted to maintain and diversify its strong relationship with Islamabad.

Mr Chollet also spoke about former prime minister Imran Khan’s allegations of US involvement in toppling his government, pointing out that those claims were completely baseless.

Asked if the US was upset with the former premier and those allegations make him a less liked politician in the States, Mr Chollet said: “All I can say is that there is nothing to the allegations. Those were not true.”

“What we want to stay focused on is where we are going in the US-Pakistan relationship, to reflect on all that we have achieved in 75 years but also all that we must achieve in the coming 75 years.”

The US official also underlined Washington’s concerns about the current floods in Pakistan, pointing out that the Biden administration already announced $30 million in assistance and was willing to do more.

“These horrific floods are something that we have not seen since 2010. And by some accounts, it is worse than the floods of 2010,” he said. “It is a climate cataclysm that we are seeing in Pakistan. It is just devastating.”

The US, he said, was committed to “doing our part with our partners in the international community to help Pakistan respond to this terrible natural disaster.”

The US would also work with the United Nations to raise $160m for the flood victims, he added.

Responding to a question about his statement that the US was not afraid of having a fair competition with China, he said: “Pakistan has a close relationship with China, has for many years. The US again, is not asking countries to choose between the US and China. We just want countries to be able to have a choice.”

Reminded that in the past, this relationship was more linked to US security concerns about the region, Mr Chollet said: “We are interested in diversifying the relationship even further. We already have a fairly strong and robust business relationship. But I think that is something that we are interested in growing further.”

Asked if Pakistan still had strategic value for the US, he said: “Oh, absolutely. I mean, Pakistan is one of the world’s largest Muslim countries. It has the fifth or sixth largest population. It is a critically important country to the US.”

“And that is why we are committed as we project forward over the next 75 years, to find ways that we can deepen this partnership and achieve so many of the shared interests and goals that we have.”

On a question about why sometimes people in Pakistan feel that India gets an unfair advantage — for instance, Washington allows it to purchase cheap oil from Russia while preventing Pakistan from doing so — Mr Chollet said: “Our relationship with each country stands on its own. And we have much that we share with both countries,” he said. “We do have honest differences with both countries. What matters is how we work through those differences.”

“Our perspective in terms of working with Pakistan is we are going to work through those differences in the spirit of partnership, and cooperation and try to keep an eye on all that we share. We both are going to remain true to our interests and our values. But we see much that we share together.”

Do US concerns about China make India a more valuable ally? To this, he said: “These relationships, we do not see them as conjoined. They are separate relationships. And we have separate sets of goals, ambitions, and challenges with both countries.”

However, he agreed that the US had a concern about China globally. “In South Asia and in East Asia, in Southeast Asia, all around the world, China is playing a role that in many cases is not consistent with what we think our interests are,” he said.

The US, he said, committed to finding ways to work with China on shared interests, for example, on climate change, but the Chinese pulled out of these discussions.

Asked if Pakistan could also face a Sri Lanka-like situation because of the Chinese loans, he said: “What we are worried about is that countries — whether in South Asia or all around the world — entering into relationships with China are not going to end up well.”

“And so, we want to be very candid with countries about the choices that they make. And again, the critical thing, it is not for the US to decide, these are choices.”

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2022

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