Mrs. Clinton’s Pakistan Visit
By Dr. Nazir Khaja
Founder, Council of Pakistan
Los Angeles , CA
Mrs. Clinton's three-day trip to Pakistan was timely and needed. In the face of a rising tide of anti-Americanism it was also an act of courage. While she may not be returning with the settlement of all outstanding issues between Pakistan and the US, the visit seems to have helped in setting the priorities and expectations right.
During the three days the Secretary repeatedly heard a chorus from Pakistanis government officials, media pundits, students and ordinary people how America used Pakistan during the cold war and then abandoned it, how it supported military dictatorships and stifled democratic growth in Pakistan. And how it has continued to act with little consideration for the sovereignty of Pakistan's government or the feelings of the people of Pakistan. Her visit came when the Kerry-Lugar Bill was being hotly discussed and debated in the Pakistani press and talk shows and also between the governments of Pakistan and the US.
The Pakistani response was entirely predictable. The trust deficit between the US and Pakistan has grown steadily, especially after 9/11.
There are obvious reasons for this but the common understanding on the streets in Pakistan is that it is all US` fault. This whole notion, though existing for a long time, assumed even greater currency during the Bush Presidency. The fragile governments that have ruled Pakistan since its birth have kept the masses deluded, promising them a whole lot and delivering nothing. It has always been easy to scapegoat others and blame them for their own failures in improving the conditions of the people of Pakistan.
The US has remained the chief culprit. From the mosque pulpit to policy makers the message remains the same: that it is all America's fault.
This has created the present situation when despite aid offer to help Pakistan, which could help the country in a big way at a most critical time, all have joined in to scrutinize and criticize the offer of help. While the weak civilian government has no quarrel with the Kerry-Lugar Bill, the Army has its` reasons for questioning parts of the bill which apply to civilian control of promotions and appointments of the top army brass. An average Pakistani neither knows enough about the issue or the bill nor does he care, and yet has been manipulated into raising anti-American slogans.
The media in Pakistan is another story. Its freedom ironically was sanctioned by President Musharraf, an army general. Subsequently, now there is a plethora of television channels with talk show hosts who have little insight or training to engage in constructive discourse. They are vying with each other bringing in anyone as their guest whether from the government or the opposition who can sing the anti-American melody even louder - "full of sound and fury signifying nothing"! The religious leaders who appear as guests do not hesitate to link the war on terror as an attack on Islam by America and the West. Thus there is re-enforcement of anti-Americanism from all sides. It is no surprise that Mrs. Clinton was asked the same set of questions by all who she came in contact with, whether the media, students or civil and military personnel.
Judging from how Mrs. Clinton handled herself it is clear that she recognizes the priority of winning the hearts and minds of the Pakistanis. She was also forthright in giving appropriate responsibility and challenging the Pakistani people to work towards overcoming their own deficiencies. At the official level the issue of drone attacks, which continue to make headlines, will require reassessment by policy makers here.
The Pakistan Government's demand in this regard has been that the US should pass on the technology and let them do it. With appropriate safeguards and modifications this may be beneficial for the US image. The Pakistan Military will take charge of the operation. The request by the Pakistan Army for several items that would help them fight the insurgents must also be on her priority list.
President Obama is under increasing pressure to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. The resultant impact on Pakistan and the ongoing campaign against the insurgents is obvious and is being carefully assessed. India`s heavy presence in Afghanistan with several consular offices and advisers is rightly viewed with great suspicion in Pakistan which believes that India has a hand in causing instability in Afghanistan and the Frontier Province through the Afghan corridor. Secretary Clinton should consider calling for a meeting of regional players who have a stake in putting an end to the insurgency; a meeting in which India, Iran, Russia, and China are invited along with Pakistan.
Secretary Clinton has promised significant additional help for strengthening various social sector institutions which would be helpful in confidence-building and combating the anti-American feeling. This obviously is necessary.
However with all the promised help there is still very little confidence among the majority of the people in the street that the money would be actually spent to improve their lives.
Corruption has remained the bane of Pakistan's governance and politics.
Its reach allegedly is to the highest office in the land. At the visceral level all Pakistanis recognize it to be the main cause of the country's lack of progress, yet in any discourse or discussions with outsiders they choose to blame others. Secretary Clinton, when she raised the issue of reform of taxation in Pakistan, was probably including this issue as part of the total package of taxation reform that is needed. It may also be helpful if in this regard all high-ranking officials declare their level and source of income and how much they are paying in their taxes. There is a widespread belief among Pakistanis that most officials have bank accounts abroad where they hide their illgained money. The US has recently been able to prevail upon the Swiss Banks to provide details of transactions related to the US citizens who have had these accounts; the same should be demanded of Pakistani officials and businesses. This will be a much-needed step towards transparency and accountability that for long have been absent in Pakistani official circles and business transactions.
Despite the bumps in the road Mrs. Clinton it seems handled herself well. She clearly spelt out what the US expects from Pakistan and what the US will do for it. In the process she gained a lot more insight, which will only be helpful in course correction regarding the US policies towards Pakistan. She certainly has succeeded in reducing the "trust deficit" between Pakistan and the US.
It is indeed a battle for the hearts and minds in Pakistan and it will not be won without building and strengthening civil institutions. Massive investment and efforts in education and developing responsible media are a priority for which the government and the private sector in Pakistan must be supported. The demand from the US for transparency and accountability with benchmarks, must remain in order for the US to ensure that the aid is having the desired results. This is for the good of the people of Pakistan.
The media in Pakistan must play a more responsible role. It would serve the greater interest of Pakistan if it helps in building consensus among the public to fight the common enemy - the Jihadist insurgents and not the US.
At this critical time Pakistanis will do well to remind themselves that they "should not look a gift horse in its mouth" as the saying goes. Further they must also realize that no it is not a "Trojan Horse"! Nazir.firstname.lastname@example.org.