Pakistan has more “latent” pro-Americanism than any other country: Cameron Munter

By Ali Imran 

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WASHINGTON, Sep 29 : Favoring long-term US-Pakistan ties, independent of the current Afghan imbroglio, former ambassador Cameron Munter has said the Islamabadand Washington need to break out of the stranglehold of competing narratives and traditional “bilateralness” to focus on much greater civil society cooperation to make the key relationship enduring.

English: Cameron Munter, U.S. Ambassador to Se...

Cameron Munter, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In his first public appearance since returning to Washington at the end of a critical ambassadorial assignment in Islamabad in July, Munter saw a two-fold opportunity for improvement in ties arising from the recent reopening of Pakistani land routes for NATO supplies into Afghanistan.

One opportunity presents itself between now and 2014 combat withdrawal deadline, when the ongoing drive to contain the al-Qaeda threat and Afghanistan will likely remain top priority for Washington.

The other opportunity will be in the post-2014 world, when Washington will view the region in an entirely different perspective.

Munter felt the two countries still have to get to a point of “meeting of the minds” on Afghanistan for the period up to 2014, during which the Afghan situation will remain the immediate US interest until the last American soldier leaves that landlocked country.

But, futuristically beyond 2014, he noted emphatically that Washington would have to determine which country is more important to it, with one being a country of 180 million people and possessing nuclear weapons.

Speaking at a Washington think-tank, Munter rejected the notion that the US should part ways with Pakistan, saying that kind of approach reflects “intellectual laziness” on part of the proponents.

The challenge for the US policy makers and diplomats has been how to strike a balance between getting Islamabad’s help on short-term objectives in Afghanistan and fostering a long-term relationship with Pakistan under a strategic framework.

“When you look at Pakistan through the telescope of Afghanistan you see Haqqani network (only),” he said, citing the challenge Washington has been facing in its policy towards the region.

Munter argued that “deeper” and “more sophisticated” ties with Pakistan would help overcome entrenched assumptions about each other’s motives.

“We will be able to conceive of our American policy towards Pakistan, I hope, in a way that is broader, has more of a long-term focus, and isn’t trapped by these narratives,” he said at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“We don’t change those narratives, but the question is, can we go around them?” Munter pondered.

“Can we do something else so that the question of whether or not Pakistanis are all betrayers and people who take our money and whether Americans are those people who come but then leave you — whether that question doesn’t get solved but becomes, perhaps, less relevant?”

He thought the 2008 grand strategic partnership was wrongly confined within the two competing narratives.

Munter candidly said the 2009 Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act, which pumped nearly $3 billion in civilian aid to Islamabad, had failed to break through the long-standing narratives because of institutional weakness in Pakistan and the United States’ “inability to look past counterterrorism” in bilateral relations.

The former envoy proposed a much greater U.S. emphasis on forging people-to-people contacts, business and educational ties, and public diplomacy, so that “the face of America is your neighbor, an engineer who works on a Punjab ditch” and not “the face of Raymond Davis,” the former CIA contractor, who killed two Pakistanis in Lahore in January 2011, triggering a sharp decline in ties.

He conceded, however, that an approach focusing on Pakistan’s people more than its politics is “unlikely” until the last U.S. troops leave Afghanistan — or until it is safe for “university professors and businessmen, not diplomats” to help build relations.

He said at the civil society level, “the most dynamic partners” for the Americans in Pakistan can be the media, businesses universities, non-governmental organizations. Pakistan, he said, has many progressive people and that the Pakistanis want opportunity to develop.

“Until 2014, it is unlikely, in my mind, that we can have a major change. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do our homework,” Munter said.

“It doesn’t mean we can’t get, for example, the dynamic philanthropic sector of Pakistan to work with the very dynamic philanthropic sector in the United States — which, in recent years, has not happened very much.”

In fact, Munter, argued that new investment in Pakistani society could allow Washington to tap into what he described as strong “latent pro-Americanism” in the country.

He explained that the US should try not to keep the narrative issue on top of its considerations while formulating its larger policy. He said the US can always advocate its case and argue for its views and reaffirm its commitment to the region.

“But more important than that, is not getting caught in the narrative as the defining intellectual construct of our relationship, in my mind.”

He noted that Pakistanis are not the only people or the country that blames America for their problems and frustrations.

Munter disagreed with the proposition that the Pakistanis and Americans lack affinity to cooperate and also rejected findings of the recent polls to that effect.

He pointed out that mainly the Pakistanis’ frustration is with their own governance and the perceived support that the US has provided to those who governed them.

“There is an enormous frustration with the US but an enormous desire for the United States to give its approval to Pakistan.”

He felt if the fundamental problems of daily life in Pakistan, the frustration and the feelings of not having anyway to deal with problems, can somehow be addressed through institutions, the feeling of anti-Americanism would also be addressed gradually.

“I don’t think that this is a well thought-out fundamental anti-Americanism, it is an enormous disappointment and lack of self-confidence in the country — and we blow it enough that we contribute to this…”

He said there is a great reservoir of cooperative feelings among people to build the ties.

“In Pakistan, 10 percent people approve of us and 95 percent people care deeply what we think. So that is I think the model that gives us the chance to have a positive effect on the country.

“This country has, I believe, more than any other country I have served in 30 years of foreign service, latent pro-Americanism. I have never been in a country, where I have felt that strongly.

And Pakistanis complaining against American policies  is not a question of ideology either, he added.

He explained that it is a question of just the way people everywhere would always come up and express their views as common people do.

There is actually a huge affinity between cultures,’ for cooperation, he said.

Munter, who resigned as ambassador in May and is to be replaced by new US envoy in Islamabad Richard Olson, also said old narratives had become more ingrained after the “litany of horrors” that characterized relations during his 18-month tenure — particularly in the sensitive 2011.

These starred with killing of two Pakistanis by CIA contractor Raymond Davis and included the fallout from the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May of that year at his compound in Pakistan and the November killing of 24 Pakistani troops in a NATO airstrike, which led to the closure of supply lines to Afghanistan.

The events of 2011 made it difficult to maintain a balance between the long-term and the short-term priorities in the relationship, he observed.

The former envoy also advocated a more regional approach to Pakistan in order to reduce what he called an “obsession” with the “bilateralness” of the relationship.

He recalled that decades ago, countries like China and South Korea looked up to Islamabad and wanted to replicate Pakistan’s model of progress and made the case that “internationalizing” relationship with Pakistan could be a good way forward.

The US, he said, can help Pakistan reach out to its neighbors and drew attention of the American experts to the fact that while the 2011 experienced troubles in US-Pakistan relations, it saw Islamabad improve bilateral ties with New Delhi.

He also noted that one of the greatest things that happened in Pakistan is that the leadership of the military has blessed the country’s opening to India.

The “traditional” way of looking at the relationship with Pakistan bilaterally “needs to be redefined and broadened.” Such a broader approach, he said, will need patience and bigger international involvement that addresses problems like Pakistan’s energy challenges.

Munter did not address the question of controversial US drone strikes into tribal areas specifically but advocated resources of both countries should be used to target militants planning to harm the two countries. While as ambassador, he reportedly differed on the drone strikes timing on some occasions.


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