A Renewed Approach: Finding Stability in US-Pakistan Relations

Article excerpt

You have extensive experience in Pakistani diplomacy and have served Pakistan as Ambassador for two terms. What do you think were the main diplomatic issues facing Pakistan during your ambassadorship and how, if at all, do you think the issues have improved, worsened, or stayed the same?

I think that the first challenge of representing a country like Pakistan is the challenge of making people understand Muslim countries and Muslim societies. Pakistan is the second-largest Muslim nation in the world and has more than its fair share of challenges. One of the key challenges has been the fact that I never thought I would be representing the entirety of Muslim people, which increasingly became the case especially after 9/11. It required making people understand both our Islamic faith and the geo-politics of our country. Pakistan has remained in the eye of the storm due to what I call the "tyranny of geography"; being situated in a very volatile part of the world leads Pakistan to be a critical player in both regional and global security. Making people understand the tough issues of the population and fiscal issues has, in my opinion, become much more difficult for several reasons. Firstly, the failure of the Bush policies in Afghanistan and the fallout seen at Pakistani borders has turned a once peaceful society into a violent one. Secondly, the catastrophe of the Bush policies has been compounded by Pakistan's own record of not having the best governance. This has prevented Pakistan to actualize their stability and is representative of the failure of rulers to meet the expatiations of their people.

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How would you characterize the Bush administration's attitude and policies toward Pakistan? Where, if at all, do you think they miscalculated their approach?

I think that the Bush administration followed a flawed strategy that produced very negative consequences. The Bush administration failed to contain the war in Afghanistan and pushed a war that was not Pakistani's responsibility into Pakistan. Secondly, the Bush administration ended up treating Pakistan as hired help rather than as a valued ally. In doing so, a huge gap was created in the minds of the people of Pakistan with regard to the value of this relationship. No country likes to be treated as if they are in a transactional relationship. Transactional relationships do not work in Eastern societies. Rather, they like relationships that are founded on shared principles and common interest, and that was not the impression given by the Bush administration.

In light of the failures of the previous US policy toward Pakistan, what do you think should be the new goals and strategies of the Obama administration? What areas do you think the new administration needs to focus on and how do you think they should facilitate it?

Opinion polls before the US elections showed that Pakistanis were very indifferent to who won the US elections, as they did not believe that anything would really change for the better. What was interesting was that, once Obama won the election, public skepticism seemed to wane, and Pakistani opinion polls showed a surge of goodwill and a sense of hope in the new administration's capabilities.

This surge reflected the anticipation that someone like Obama would be better able to understand US-Pakistani relations and alleviate the inherent problems. This provides an important context and backdrop because now he has the ability to reset and recalibrate the US-Pakistan relationship, so that it is truly one that works for the mutual benefit of both states and departs from the transactional nature that has previously damaged it. I think that the biggest challenge for the Obama administration will be to ensure that whatever new strategy it decides on for Afghanistan is one that promotes stability in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

One consequence of the Bush administration's policies has been that the strategy applied in Afghanistan came at the expense of Pakistan's stability. …

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