Ambassador Karamat Visits the San Francisco Bay Area
By Ras H. Siddiqui


L to R: Ambassador Jehangir Karamat, Douglas Bereuter and Neil Joeck

San Francisco: Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Jehangir Karamat made a whirlwind tour of Northern California recently during which he addressed gatherings at University of California Berkeley, the World Affairs Council in San Francisco and at Stanford. This reporter caught up with him in both Berkeley and San Francisco and was able to listen to his views on “The Future of US-Pakistan Relations.” He was accompanied by Consul General Noor Muhammad Jadmani and First Secretary Mumtaz Baloch during the trip.
Both introductions of Ambassador Karamat, by Professor Neil Joeck in Berkeley and Mr. Douglas Bereuter (President of the Asia Foundation) in San Francisco, incorporated his distinguished career as a soldier-diplomat and as a scholar. Ambassador Karamat retired as Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff and Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan in 1998. He has also been a Visiting Fellow at CISAC, Stanford University and Washington DC’s Brookings Institute. He is a graduate of well-known defense institutions, including the US Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and holds a Masters Degree in International Relations.
Ambassador Karamat thanked the hosts for inviting him to speak. He said that there are two different perceptions to the US-Pakistan relationship. One is that the US is going to leave after the War on Terror is over (like in the past after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan). The other perception is that the relationship between the two countries is for the long-term. “We think that it is a strategic relationship,” he said. He spoke of the convergence of interests between the US and Pakistan and the upcoming strategic dialog that is to begin between the two countries on April 26. He said that this is going to be a high-level structured dialog and that comprehensive discussions would take place from the bilateral, regional and global perspective.

A group of Pakistanis greet the Ambassador in Berkeley
Jehangir Karamat with Ras Siddiqui

The Ambassador continued with the other dialog that has also been initiated and is taking place between Pakistan and the United States which focuses on Pakistan’s current and future energy needs. He added that Pakistan’s energy requirements 10 to 15 years from now will be reviewed and hoped that its needs will be addressed.
He said that Pakistan was focusing a great deal on economic and trade issues with the United States. “We have been pushing the economic side. We were looking at a free trade agreement between the US and Pakistan. This has not happened yet,” he said, but the dialog has been moving forward. He spoke of “Reconstruction Opportunity Zones” in economically depressed areas of Pakistan especially along the Pakistan-Afghan border area which could be provided badly needed tariff relief for their goods. He went on to add that there are several other initiatives (between the US and Pakistan) underway in the social sector, specifically in the areas of health, education and governance. He said economic improvement takes away terrorist recruits.
On last October’s devastating earthquake in Pakistan, he expressed how grateful Pakistanis were for America’s help. “The US came in very strongly in the rescue, relief and post-earthquake phase,” he said. (Let us add here that the Pakistani-American community fully echoes the Ambassador’s words of thanks to the Bush Administration towards this relief effort).
Ambassador Karamat also touched upon the current Afghanistan-Pakistan-US tripartite efforts in the War on Terror. He mentioned strides made in information gathering and sharing. “We can take immediate action on intelligence now,” he said. He added that one of the areas on the Pak-Afghan border, Waziristan, has been identified as a problem area where aliens have sought refuge, and that the area has become a focus of Pak military action. He said that the task to eliminate the source of the trouble is not easy due to the nature of the problem, even though the ball game has changed in the past two years. “You have to understand the dynamics of the situation in Afghanistan,” he said. He spoke of the North-South divide in that country and the drugs and weapons mafia’s operating there which is a big problem for Pakistan. He also spoke on some of the blowback in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province where three tribes were resisting progressive change.
On the defense and security aspects of the US-Pakistan relationship, the Ambassador said that the next meeting was scheduled for May 1. He added that Pakistan would be presenting its current defense requirements at that meeting which will include the purchase of the F-16 aircraft.
On the all-important topic of India-Pakistan relations, Ambassador Karamat was cautiously optimistic. “The dialog is now more or less institutionalized,” he said. He said that the US was not directly involved in the talks but is playing the role of a facilitator. On the recent India-US nuclear deal he said that Pakistan had on its part indicated its concerns to the US. He added that there was a “trust deficit” between Washington and Islamabad on the nuclear issue due to the unfortunate A.Q. Khan proliferation episode but that Pakistan has taken various steps to ensure that situation cannot be repeated.
The Ambassador had a great deal to say on Pakistan’s economic progress since 1999, when a comprehensive reform program was implemented and is continuing. He said that Pakistan’s economic progress was recently covered in Newsweek and in the Wall Street Journal on this very day. He spoke of increased investor confidence, a successful privatization effort, developments of new ports on the coast and the 8.4% growth rate last year, making Pakistan a model for economic reform. He added that the prospect of overland transit trade from Central Asia through Pakistan offered exciting prospects.
In the problem areas identified by the Ambassador, he said that the “democracy issue” was one, but that Pakistan was on the path to sustainable democracy and that the current elected government would be the first to complete its full tenure in recent times. He said that women were being promoted in politics and that there was a hectic discussion on the gender rights issues going on in Pakistan. “The Military is putting its organizational and structural strength behind democracy in Pakistan,” he said.
He admitted that religious and sectarian strife had created an internal security problem helped by the blowback from Afghanistan and Kashmir and the global War on Terror.
But he added that there is a very active and strong political opposition to the government in the country and that the media was very active and free to express itself. “The media is REALLY free,” he said, breaking into a smile.
The Ambassador also shared some insights into how Pakistan viewed the current world situation. He stressed that social issues need to be addressed rather than military solutions. “We have seen that there are limits to even overwhelming military power,” he said.
On Pakistan’s own foreign policy, Ambassador Karamat said that it has a relationship with Iran, its own policy on Iraq and has opened up a dialog with Israel, a dialog which will go further when the Israeli-Palestinian peace process makes progress.
He said that Pakistan also wants a stable Afghanistan and good relationship with India. On Kashmir he said that for the first time there is initiative on both sides to look for a solution.
In conclusion, we in the Pakistani-American community will soon bid farewell to Ambassador Jehangir Karamat as he is slated to leave his post in Washington in the next couple of months. He will be remembered as a humble, articulate and soft-spoken figure, a well read soldier and a credit to the military profession. He once chose to uphold democracy in Pakistan in spite of being in a situation where he could have taken over.
And as he prepares to leave Washington, the only question to ask now is what will be his next assignment?

 

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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