WASHINGTON - American policymakers face continuing challenges in creating a constructive and sustainable relationship with Pakistan, and it may be time to consider a new approach, said former US ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter.
In his first public event since his return from Islamabad, the ex-envoy spoke about the obstacles and opportunities ahead in Pakistan at the Carnegie endowment for international peace.
Pakistanis, he argued, tend to believe that Americans aim to use Pakistan to achieve American goals, and then abandon the relationship when it no longer serves Washington's ends. He believed that Americans, on the other hand, view the Pakistani government as duplicitous and manipulative, accepting US aid and assistance even as it sometimes works to undermine American interests in the region.
Munter pointed to 2008 as a turning point in the Washington's Pakistan policy. He identified a good-faith effort to balance crucial counterterrorism goals with a commitment to a stable Pakistan in the long term. Most notably, the United States increased civilian assistance to Pakistan dramatically with the Kerry-Lugar-Berman (KLB) bill, and the US and Pakistani militaries began to cooperate more closely. He placed the blame for KLB's failure to achieve systemic improvements in Pakistan's civilian sector at the feet of the Pakistani state. Islamabad, he argued, lacked the state capacity to support government-to-government programmes on which KLB so heavily relies.
The former ambassador said new hurdles emerged for the US-Pakistani relations throughout in 2011. Munter said these incidents reinforced caricatured narratives on both sides. He described how Pakistanis willing to work closely with Americans found they lacked the domestic capital to do so, and how American policymakers faced increasingly vocal calls to take a harder line on Islamabad.
With the resolution of the dispute over Nato supply routes through Pakistan, he believes there may be an opportunity for the United States and Pakistan to find common ground-as long as both sides keep their expectations modest and avoid reprising the large-scale strategic aspirations of 2008.
Munter sees a great potential for partnership in Pakistan's civil society. Its businesses, universities, non-governmental organizations, and similar actors have not figured prominently in US the policy in the past, but he contends that there is room for slow but steady progress on building social links between the two countries.
He explained how the United States can look to the region and the world to help strengthen and stabilise Pakistan. He reflected on Pakistan's nascent détente with India, suggesting that an increasing Pakistani willingness to engage even with its traditional rival could offer a forum to discuss common goals and ways to achieve them.
The former envoy called for a broader approach to fostering long-term US-Pakistan relationship, with an emphasis on expanded people-to-people contacts. Munter was not sure if Pakistan and the US had reached a "meeting of the minds" on Afghanistan for 2014 goals and expected Afghan issue to get more attention in US policy until that deadline of withdrawal of combat troops. But, beyond 2014, he indicated in his remarks that the United States would see Pakistan independent of Afghanistan and attach more importance to its relationship with Pakistan. Over the years, he noted that the US policymakers and diplomats have been trying to balance relations with Pakistan between immediate US goals in Afghanistan and the demands of long-term ties with Islamabad. "When you look at Pakistan through the telescope of Afghanistan you see Haqqani network (only)," he said.