US govt spokesman asked volley of questions about General Bajwa’s visit
Ned Price says Pakistan’s elected civilian govt ‘primary interlocutor’ in bilateral relations
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US State Department spokesperson Ned Price has put up a competent demonstration of his skills at a news briefing on Tuesday when he adeptly deflected a volley of questions regarding recent visit of Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa to the US.
A journalist asked Ned Price about the outcome and issues which General Bajwa discussed during his visit to Washington but the State Department spokesman artfully dodged them saying General Bajwa called on senior US officials, including US Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman but he had no details of those meetings.
Ned Price mentioned that security challenges are always on the agenda when we have high-level engagements with our Pakistani counterparts. He called it a standard practice, adding that we don’t delve into the details of those engagements always.
To another question, Ned Price said the elected civilian government in Pakistan was the primary interlocutor between Islamabad and Washington, saying the two sides share a number of similar interests.
Commenting on mismanagement of relief items, he said Washington was serious about reports of corruption and looting of relief items not only in Pakistan but around the world where American taxpayer dollars were implicated. “We monitor and ensure that we have adequate tracking mechanisms in this context,” he said, adding the US government sends inspection teams to such areas to monitor the situation and one such team had visited 10 flood-affected areas in Balochistan last month.
Following are the excerpts of Ned Price’s news briefing regarding Pakistan:
QUESTION: Last week Mr. Javed Qamar Bajwa, chief of staff of Pakistan, that officially visited the high official of the United States. Could you please share with me that – what topics he discussed with US authority, specifically about Afghanistan?
MR PRICE: The Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman did have an opportunity to meet with the chief of the army staff Mr Bajwa. We value our longstanding cooperation with Pakistan. There are a number of areas where our interests are aligned. Of course, the stability and the future of Afghanistan, of the Afghan people, the security challenges that the region and potentially beyond face there always are on the agenda when we have high-level engagements with our Pakistani counterparts. We meet with and speak with them regularly on a range of issues. But as is standard practice, we don’t delve into the details of those engagements always.
QUESTION: You do – you just shared two details of General Bajwa’s visit to Washington, DC Has he met with Secretary Blinken too?
MR PRICE: We don’t have any meetings to read out. The meeting I referred to was between Deputy Secretary Sherman and the chief of the army staff.
QUESTION: So there are many media reports in Pakistan questioning the timing of General Bajwa’s visit to Washington, D.C. because his second three-year term as chief of army staff is going to be ended in next few weeks. Many believe that he discussed the chaotic political situation of Pakistan with the American administration and the possible appointment of new army chief. Would you deny or confirm any such kind of thing?
MR PRICE: I am just not going to characterize the meeting beyond what I said earlier. We have a number of shared interests with our Pakistani partners. There are security interests, there are economic interests, there are people-to-people ties and connections as well, but I’m just not going to speak to it. Of course, Pakistan has a civilian government that is democratically elected, and that is our primary interlocutor.
QUESTION: The United States giving millions of dollars to help the flood victims in Pakistan, but there are report of massive corruption and looting of relief items, especially in the province of Sindh. According to a UN report, out of $150 million only $38 million have been converted into assistance. So what measures are being taken to make sure that these millions of dollars go and reach to the deserving people, not to the looters?
MR PRICE: This is something we take very seriously, not only in Pakistan but anywhere around the world where American taxpayer dollars are implicated and when there is an urgent humanitarian interest at stake, which is clearly the case, in terms of the response to the flooding in Pakistan.
A couple of examples of what we do to monitor and to ensure that we have adequate tracking mechanisms in this context. First, USAID staff – they make regular trips to monitor our programs in the field. We have what’s called a DART – a Disaster Assistance Response Team – and their members travel to more than 10 flood-affected districts in Balochistan, in Sindh provinces. They did so between – around mid last month, so between September 14th and September 27th – to assess not only the humanitarian conditions but also the response activities and to make sure that those response activities were meeting the humanitarian need.
USAID partners work with local organizations that have extensive knowledge about the affected areas and their populations. We also are required to provide regular program updates on the progress of activities and any security concerns, and we require them – our partners – to immediately report any potential diversions, seizures, or losses immediately. So this is something we take very seriously.
QUESTION: I have one last question. A group of Pakistani Americans and Pakistani nationals recently visited Israel and met with the Israeli President Herzog there. This visit was in connection with the Abraham Accords and kind of good relations between Pakistan and Israel. Would you like to comment on that?
MR PRICE: I would refer you to our Israeli and Pakistani partners to speak to a bilateral engagement between those two countries. Of course, a goal of this administration has been to build bridges between Israel and its Arab and Muslim-majority neighbours, and even countries that are slightly further afield. But in terms of this bilateral engagement, I would refer you to those two countries.