Washington: : Senior US diplomat Alice Wells, who recently visited India, has praised India’s decision to roll back internet restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir, but sought the release of detained political leaders.
Addressing a briefing about her recently concluded three-nation tour, Wells, principal deputy assistant secretary of State for South And Central Asian Affairs, said: “On Jammu and Kashmir, I was pleased to see some incremental steps, including the partial return of internet services in Kashmir. And the visit by our ambassador and other foreign diplomats to Jammu and Kashmir is something that I know was extensively covered in the press."
“We also continue to urge the government to permit regular access by our diplomats, and to move swiftly to release those political leaders detained without charge,” Wells said, adding that the visit by foreign dignitaries to the Valley earlier this month was “a useful step,” Wells said.
Nearly six months after shutting off the internet for Jammu and Kashmir, the administration on Friday issued orders instructing for restoration of broadband and mobile internet services at 2G speeds starting Saturday.
According to a notification by the home department, internet access shall be limited to whitelisted sites, which has been expanded to 300 from the earlier 153. Restrictions on social media websites that allow “peer to peer communication and Virtual Private Network Application” will continue.
Wells said India is moving away from having a passive foreign policy to the one vigorously advancing its interests, attributing the trend to New Delhi’s “broadening strategic horizons” over the past two decades.
She added that not meeting the obligations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) would have a devastating impact on Pakistan's economic reform program.
The US diplomat made the comments a day after Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the country should be taken off the FATF's 'grey list' as it has made considerable progress on the requirements of the international terror financing watchdog.
“Obviously, if Pakistan were not to meet FATF obligations or were to fail and be blacklisted, that would be devastating for Pakistan's economic reform program and for its ability to attract investors. We've been pleased to see progress by Pakistan towards fulfilling FATF obligations,” said Wells, who has just returned from her trip to the region, including a visit to Islamabad.
There is a meeting underway currently in Beijing where Pakistan is presenting its actions to the task force. So I defer to that task force to make its evaluation, she said.
“But the more evidence of Pakistan's seriousness in both documenting its economy and in shrinking the space for militants to be able to take advantage of Pakistan's either banking system or territory, the more confidence that the international community and business community will have in working with Pakistan,” Wells said.
A Pakistani delegation led by Minister for Economic Affairs Division Hammad Azhar is in Beijing to brief the financial task force about the steps taken by Islamabad to implement the recommendations made by the FATF.
The FATF in October last decided to keep Pakistan on its 'Grey' list for failure to curb funnelling of funds to terror groups Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and others.
If not removed off the list by April, Pakistan may move to a blacklist of countries that face severe economic sanctions, such as Iran.
Observing that FATF is a technical process, Wells said that there has been an action plan that was presented to Pakistan. “It's a question of fulfilling the requirements that have been spelled out and that are asked of all countries in the international system. So it's not a political process, but we certainly support and stand ready to assist Pakistan as it implements these obligations,” she added.
The US, she said, welcomes efforts by Pakistan to meet its counterterrorism financing obligations under FATF. “We strongly encourage Pakistan to work with FATF and the international community to fully satisfy its action plan commitments,” she said.
Wells said completion of the FATF action plan is critical to Pakistan's economic reform efforts, including its IMF program, as well as for demonstrating sustained and irreversible action against all militant groups based in Pakistan without distinction.
“We've seen obvious progress in our relations with Pakistan, from the high-level engagement such as the President's (Donald Trump) warm and constructive meeting with Prime Minister (Imran) Khan at Davos to the restoration of the International Military Education and Training programs,” she said.
During her trip to Islamabad last week, Wells had extensive conversations on how the two countries can bolster their economic partnership where the US is Pakistan's largest export market, largest trade partner, and historically one of its most significant investors.
“There are obvious synergies in energy and agriculture, and opening Pakistan's markets to American investments creates jobs and wealth without sacrificing standards or fuelling corruption. We're looking forward to welcoming 10 Pakistani buyer delegations to the US and five regional trade shows in 2020, which will build deeper relationships between US and Pakistani firms. Prime Minister Khan's economic reform efforts contributed to the World Bank identifying it as one of the top 10 reformers globally in 2019,” she said.
Responding to a question on China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), she said Pakistan needs to adhere to the buyer beware.
“That Pakistan is a buyer, these are not this is not grant assistance from China, it's loans, often not with concessional financing. And Pakistan should beware of the terms, to make sure that they're getting the most for their money, that brings the greatest economic prosperity,” she noted.
This is Pakistan's sovereign right to decide what investment it seeks and on what terms. And a friend of Pakistan, we certainly urge that they take on investment projects that create wealth, generate employment, and are sustainable, and think we have great options for the Pakistani market, she said in response to a question.
(With PTI inputs)