Positive Perceptions to Sustain the US-Pakistan Relationship

By Koehlmoos, Randall L. | Parameters, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview
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Positive Perceptions to Sustain the US-Pakistan Relationship


Koehlmoos, Randall L., Parameters


Pakistan and the United States continue to struggle to find a mutual strategy upon which to build a more positive and productive relationship. While both nations observed positive changes in attitudes during the strategic dialogue held in Washington, D.C. in March 2010, the history of mistrust does not support an enduring relationship. Pakistan's military and intelligence services remain suspicious of the motives and methods of their US counterparts, a wariness mirrored in American attitudes. (1) American humanitarian assistance after the 2005 earthquake in northern Pakistan temporarily improved public opinion of Americans, but Pakistanis still find it difficult to understand how long-term engagement with the United States benefits their nation. (2) Overcoming suspicions and creating trust in an effort to sustain this relationship, however, is absolutely critical if we are to achieve Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) objectives and deny al Qaeda and other militants sanctuary in Pakistan. This article summarizes the causes of this mutual mistrust and provides interlocutors with recommended actions to build confidence and change mindsets for the purpose of creating positive perceptions and a sustainable relationship.

Pakistani Perceptions of Americans

The basis of mistrust between the two nations is that Pakistan and the United States have very different national interests, and therefore possess different (and often conflicting) expectations of each other. Pakistanis also come from a culture rich in conspiracy theories, often placing the blame for failure on others--first the influence of the British and later the United States. Pakistanis believe that US actions in Afghanistan against the Soviets during the 1980s are responsible for burdening Pakistan's society with millions of Afghan refugees, extremists, a proliferation of weapons, and a prevalent narcotics trade. Pakistan believes the United States is at fault for everything that goes wrong in Afghanistan, and extends those faults to blame the United States and India for negative actions and events in Pakistan. (3) Misguided religious leaders, antistate actors, and other power brokers within the nation's tribal society all have the ability to influence and convince the population that the United States is an adversary. In fact, 64 percent of the populace regards the United States as an enemy, while only nine percent describe it as a partner. (4) For example, Jamiat Ulema-e-Fazl chief Fazlur Rehman claims 9,000 employees of Blackwater International (Xe) operate in Pakistan under US control in an effort to steal Pakistan's nuclear weapons and carry out terrorist activities, accusations the United States denies as ludicrous? Sadly though, the failure of the United States to successfully communicate American policy to Pakistan limits its ability to counter such negative accusations. (6) These accusations usually follow five main themes:

First, Americans do not warrant trust. Pakistanis perceive a deficit of trust because in their opinion the United States has already betrayed Pakistan three times, with a fourth betrayal in progress. (7) Also, Pakistanis sense a lack of US respect for their national policies and believe divergent strategic objectives have led to a cycle of failed political marriages of convenience. Many believe the United States is simply trying to advance its own political and military objectives rather than conducting a legitimate foreign policy. Pakistanis believe that GWOT is just another religious crusade against Islam? President Asif Ali Zardari noted, "The cordial relations between the United States and Pakistan at the government level need to be applied at the people-to-people level to bridge the trust deficit." (9) Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan) of expectations for improved relations through providing unmanned aerial vehicle technology, sharing intelligence, paying overdue financial obligations via Coalition Support Fund (CSF) authority, and removing Pakistan from the list of countries required to implement additional airport screening measures.

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