COPAA Board Meets with Richard Boucher, Calls on Ambassador Haqqani
COPAA Board members with Mr Richard Boucher, US Assistant Secretary of State
Washington, DC: The President of the Council of Pakistan American Affairs (COPAA), Razaq M. Chaudhry, led a six-member delegation including the former COPAA Presidents Ahmed Ali, Hamid Malik and Farhat Zubair and the Board Members Hassan Shirazi and Javed Iqbal, to the State Department in Washington, DC to meet with the Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher on June 9, 2008.
Mr. Boucher had extended an invitation to the COPAA Board to visit him in Washington when he met with the COPAA President at the 13th annual member week of the Pacific Council on International Policy in March 2008. The meeting was proposed to discuss how the Pakistani-American community views the current US policies on Pakistan and what role COPAA could play to strengthen the US-Pakistan relationship.
The COPAA Board’s meeting with Mr Boucher lasted for one hour and was very open and frank. Various aspects of US policy towards Pakistan and the US reaction to the newly formed democratic government’s shift in its approach in dealing with extremism in Pakistan were discussed in detail.
The COPAA delegation pointed out to Mr. Boucher that both Pakistanis and the Pakistani-American community believe that the US policy towards Pakistan is somewhat incoherent. It addresses Pakistan’s concerns over certain issues only in the short term, which breeds skepticism among the Pakistani public. Due to such shortcomings in the US policies, the US-Pakistan relationship never stayed on firm ground. For example, in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in October of 2005, American helicopters bearing aid were sent to the region and hailed as “Angels of Mercy” by the locals. Yet, there was no continued presence of American aid in any form to assist in reconstruction efforts.
COPAA suggested to Mr. Boucher that the US foreign policy experts should formulate a more balanced and comprehensive policy towards Pakistan that would directly benefit the ordinary citizens of Pakistan. Mr. Boucher expressed concern over the negative image of the US in Pakistan, and COPAA made the following suggestions to help improve how the US is perceived in Pakistan:
- Economic aid should be provided on a continuous basis but without any pre-conditions;
- Help improve the basic infrastructure to allow for accelerated, sustainable economic development;
- Encourage foreign direct investment by American companies in Pakistan;
- Support the development and independence of the democratic institutions;
- Support the institutions over personalities;
- Encourage universities to implement student exchange programs;
- Offer a cultural exchange program to showcase arts and music;
- Special emphasis on improving the education system; building more schools, especially in remote areas and introducing a more comprehensive curriculum.
Members of the COPAA delegation with Ambassador Haqqani
Mr. Boucher acknowledged that the US policy towards Pakistan has been somewhat incoherent in its approach to the socio-political issues in Pakistan. He mentioned the Congress has realized this and is now working on formulating a very comprehensive and long-term plan to assist Pakistan in tackling social, economic and security issues more effectively. He pointed out Senator Joe Biden’s proposal of nearly $1.5 billion annual aid for Pakistan over the next 10 years that will focus on improving health, education, economy and security in Pakistan. Indeed, Mr. Boucher encouraged COPAA and its members to stay in touch with the elected officials to ensure a comprehensive and informed policy formulation.
"Despite several billion dollars in aid to Pakistan during the last seven years, there is no visible sign of any significant economic development in Pakistan pointing towards a project completed by the US aid and benefiting ordinary citizens of Pakistan" . When asked to comment on this fact, Mr. Boucher said, “The US was avoiding buildings any major health or educational institution that can symbolize US aid.” He said this strategy was adopted to prevent such projects from becoming targets for extremists. Mr. Boucher also cautioned that the Pakistani government should be very careful in making peace deals with the extremists. He expressed US government’s displeasure over such peace deals and cautioned the Pakistan government not to sign any such deal with Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah Masood. Mr. Boucher said that while the deals could appease lower level extremist leaders, the deals, on a wider scale, could very well disrupt any efforts to eliminate their presence, and therefore, their activities. Mr. Boucher suggested that the option to use force against extremist groups should be retained even with these deals in place.
The meeting provided the COPAA Board Members an opportunity to closely observe how US foreign policymakers and experts view the current relationship between the US and Pakistan. COPAA suggested that these experts should consider the opinions of the Pakistani-American community when formulating a policy to ensure a positive, long-term impact of American activity with and in Pakistan. The meeting was a pivotal opportunity for COPAA to make itself known to policymakers in Washington, DC and to make a broader impact. COPAA invited Mr. Boucher to speak at an upcoming event in 2008, and he graciously accepted the invitation.
The COPAA Board also availed the opportunity to meet with the Chair of the House Subcommittee on South Asia, Representative Haward Barman, and his political advisor on South Asia. The Board and Representative Barman and his advisor discussed the current US-Pakistan relationship and the proposed strategies to strengthen the US-Pakistan relationship in the future.
The Board also met with the former US Ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlain, currently the President of the Institute of the Middle East, a Washington-based research organization. The former Ambassador shed light on the tenuous post 9/11 relationship between US and Pakistan and how President Musharaf finally decided to cooperate with the US policy of dealing with the terrorists responsible of 9/11 attacks.
The Board also met with the acting Pakistani Ambassador to the US, Aslam Khan, and the newly-appointed Ambassador, Hussain Haqani, in Washington and discussed the current political transition in Pakistan and how the events in the country are shaping the nature of Pakistan's relationship with the US.
The Council of Pakistan American Affairs was established in the mid 90's. Its major aim is to assist US elected officials and policy makers to have a better understanding of issues of vital interest to Pakistan that would ultimately lead to strong bilateral relations between USA and Pakistan.