Diplomacy: US shrugs off concerns by Pak-China closeness

Ambassador Olson says chief of Overseas Private Investment Corporation will be visiting Pakistan soon.

Our Correspondent July 13, 2013
“We do not see any competition as long as everyone is given a level playing field,” said the diplomat. PHOTO: FILE


The United States Ambassador to Islamabad, Richard Olson told journalists that Washington does not feel threatened by the growing Pak-China relations, but stressed the need for a level playing field while addressing the media at his residence here on Friday.

“We do not see any competition as long as everyone is given a level playing field,” said the diplomat.

He was answering a question regarding the impact of the Gwadar-Kashgar initiative on America’s New Silk Road, which aims to connect South Asia with Central Asia via Pakistan.

He said that the development of the Gwadar port was consistent with the US plans of expanding regional trade. The ambassador said that the New Silk Road initiative could not be fully materialised due to political, infrastructural and security challenges.

Responding to another question, Olson claimed the US was annually providing $3 billion to Pakistan on account of civil, military assistance and disbursement of the coalition support fund. He added, this year again the civilian assistance will be, by and large, in the range of $800 million to $1 billion.

Olson refrained from commenting on his country’s support for Pakistan in the IMF Executive Board. He said Washington was in general supportive of the new government’s economic policies. He said the IMF programme was still under discussion and has not yet been fully finalised.

The American diplomat also highlighted the significance of the upcoming visit of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and President of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), Elizabeth Littlefield, to Pakistan to hold discussions with public and private sector representatives. Littlefield will meet Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, State Bank of Pakistan Governor Yaseen Anwar and other key officials.

The ambassador said OPIC was a very powerful tool for US investment in Pakistan.  The OPIC President will brief Pakistani businesses on OPIC projects and highlight OPIC’s existing projects as well as those in the pipeline in Pakistan. Since 1975, OPIC has committed more than $1.3 billion in Pakistan in various investments, Olson said.

While talking about the OPIC, Olson said that it was currently completing due diligence on several projects amounting to $300 million that it wanted to finance in Pakistan. The OPIC was reviewing the possibility of providing insurance for construction of a biomass fueled power plant. It is also considering the possibility of financing wind generation power facilities and financing of an expansion plan of a local micro-finance bank’s mortgage lending portfolio for a housing project. In the agriculture sector too, the OPIC is conducting due diligence to support contract farming, processing, packaging and export of rice, the American ambassador told reporters.

Experts cite broader US strategy to consolidate gains made in Afghanistan to strengthen US grip on Central Asian resources to be used either by the Americans or preferred partners like India, as the motivation behind the New Silk Road. Much like the US, China is also eying to capture regional resources and sees strategically located deep-sea Gwadar port as an emerging hub of commercial activities in the region.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 13th, 2013.

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