It is an honor for me to speak to you today on what is a pretty tall order – can we save the world?
We could probably spend the rest of the evening discussing what is that is threatening the world – climate warming, weapons of mass destruction, over regulation, under-regulation, Rosh Limbaugh. There is probably a credible case of all of the above.
Instead let me tackle the question by addressing whether we – meaning the United States – can save Pakistan.
If forced to give a quick answer, it would have to be No. Saving Pakistan is up to Pakistanis. Frankly, our relations with the Pakistanis are too strained. It is important to understand why.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to cooperation and better relations is mistrust.
On the surface, Americans see our relations with Pakistan as pretty straight forward.
· Since Pakistan’s creation in 1947, the US has supported the new democracy with over $50 billion in economic and military aid.
· We believe we have been reliable friends in times of Pakistan’s great need. For example, the US was the first and most generous humanitarian contributor to earthquake victims in 2005, and more recently to the refugees from Swat.
· Our promise is to be there well into the future. The Obama administration has offered one of the largest multilateral economic aid packages in our history, $1.5 billion dollars over 5 years.
· Importantly, the American public believes Pakistan and the US have every reason to form a close alliance because we are threatened by a common enemy of international terrorism.
· The Pakistan army is valiantly battling the Taliban,which, by its own admission, seeks to defeat the State of Pakistan.
In short, we believe Pakistan is threatened, and we believe that as Pakistan’s friend, we should try to save it.
At the same time, an overwhelming majority of the people of Pakistan don't see it the same way and have profoundly negative opinions of the United States.
Last August, a Gallup poll showed that nearly 2/3 of the Pakistani population regard the US as an enemy. The public was less concerned about India and the Taliban, and more about American intentions in Pakistan.
The conundrum even has a name. It is called the trust deficit.
On our part, while we are perplexed by the trust deficit, we are also keenly aware of all the reasons that Americans do not trust Pakistan.
Americans are deeply troubled at the historical role Pakistan and its so-called rouge scientist, AQ Khan, played in spreading the dangers of nuclear weapons.
Secondly, Pakistan is home to Al Qaeda core and Osma bin Laden, but we do not trust that we have 100% cooperation from Pakistan’s military establishment, all elements of Al Qaeda.
Thirdly, the US condemns international terrorist groups including Laish I Taiba, that attacked India in Mumbai and believes the Pakistan establishment is overprotective of the group.
Finally, extremists in Pakistan cross over to fight us in Afghanistan, but we believe Pakistan ties one arm behind our back in going after these threats. They tacitly support the drone program, but refuse to allow US combat troops on Pakistan’s soil, and publicly rebuke our use of drone launched missiles that have proved effective against Al Qaeda leadership.
Having set the stage of a troubled but mutually dependent relationship -- the harder question is, why? Why such distrust among historical allies who both need each other today?
And a more difficult follow-on question is -- what could we do to place our relations on a stronger footing? These are the questions I will address today
Perhaps we don’t understand Pakistan because it can not be understood from a framework of traditional diplomacy that starts with defining US interests and builds from there. We are doomed by an American-centric approach. Pakistanis make the same mistake
The more I learn about Pakistan, the more I tend to believe that the only approach that makes sense is to base US policies not on our own national interests, but rather on the broader interests of the people of Pakistan. This is what real trust means.
In the longer term we have much to gain by focusing our diplomacy in ways that promote the human aspirations of a population – especially one that is the second largest Muslim country in the world, and growing at a double the of the world average.
Joshua Cooper Ramos used a good metaphor in his book, The Age of the Unthinkable.
He likened society to a cone of sand carefully built by adding one grain at a time. It was not possible to know by looking or counting the grains of sand, when adding the next grain would cause a mini avalanche.
In fact, deep inside the cone there is inner chaos of unseen movements of sand that determine when the cone will shift.
We must accept that we may not be seeing the most important things going on in Pakistan. We must look beyond the surface, deep within the sand pile to learn what is going on.
In fact, many people in Pakistan have a very different take on the history of our relations than the American public.
They don't think that we have been a reliable friend. They believe the US abandoned Pakistan in the wars with India and did not support Islamabad in 1971, when the East seceded.
There is a conviction that we use and leave Pakistan. We used Pakistan as a Cold War ally when India was courted by the Soviets. We used Pakistan to evict the Soviets form Afghanistan, and then we promptly cut off aid and military liaison ties as soon as the Cold War was over.
They believe our consular policies discriminate against Pakistanis, that we do not respect Islam, that we give trade advantages to other more powerful states like China, at the expense of Pakistan’s important textile industry.
Too many people even believe the erroneous conspiracy theories that the September 11 terrorist attacks was an Israeli and CIA plot to discredit Islam, and the wildly untrue notion that there is an Israeli –Indian –US plot to seize Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and break up the country. And that Mossad and Blackwater stage bombing attacks in Peshawar were to discredit Pakistan.
Clearly, the trust gap is a real and major impediment to bilateral cooperation.
Now I am getting to the major point of my remarks tonight. What can American diplomats do to improve understandings? To close the trust gap?
Quite simply, we must have a better understanding of Pakistan. We must dig deep and appreciate movements within the pile of sand Ramos spoke of.
We can begin by understanding, really understanding, Pakistan.
I think Hillary Clinton got it right on her last trip to Pakistan. From watching and reading about the way she organized her visit and conducted discussions with different groups of Pakistan people, it was clear to me that she genuinely empathized with the people.
· She conveyed an interest in culture, dress, food, religion.
· She did not meet exclusively with officials behind closed doors, but also in town meetings that lasted for a couple of hours with students, journalists, and businessmen.
· And she opened herself up to dialogue and answered questions with hard truths. People may not have liked her answers but they loved her honesty.
· Hillary Clinton has made a career out of her interest in helping women, children, education, and economic development. Her visit was successful. She built trust.
It is important to remember, our relationship is with the people of Pakistan. We respect the people of Pakistan for their accomplishments and for their deep commitment to democracy. Importantly, we admire and respect Islam.
The second building block to greater trust will come when we acknowledge the elephant in the room and work with India and Pakistan and their neighbors to encourage a negotiated end to the Kashmir conflict.
· I do not advocate that the US taking sides. But I do believe that a negotiated resolution of Kashmir is in both India's and Pakistan’s interests. It is central to regional peace, and key to our anti-terrorism and Afghan strategies.
· The Army is the most respected institution in Pakistan, and with good reason. But even the Army realizes that a sustained militarization of the society is not in Pakistan’s long term interests.
· The continued conflict hides larger issues such as water sharing. It restricts trade and hinders growth.
Thirdly and finally, to build trust the United States must get away from the language of transactional diplomacy, in which we measure our relations with Pakistan by what we do for Pakistan.
It is a false notion to think that we can input aid money and get an output of pro-American sentiment.
History tells a more complicated story. The US has provided $50 billion dollars to Pakistan since 1947. A large proportion was provided during the past 8 years of the Bush Administration. And the bulk of these funds went to the military. Anti-Americanism sentiment peaked.
With every good intention, the Obama administration passed the Kerry Lugar Bill generously, providing $7.5 billion over 5 years, but specifically directed to civilians for education, health, energy and governance programs.
We were stunned by the immediate, public rejection of the aid program.
Ironically, the large aid bill intended to build trust instead boomeranged to cause greater public cynicism.
· The Army felt some of the language of the bill was a slap in the face.
· Common people were deeply wary that too much money would be diverted by government officials they believed are corrupt.
· The government resented the American aid mechanism that relies too heavily on NGOs and US for profit companies.
In many ways, the reaction was justified. Quite rightly Pakistan said what few other countries have communicated, but many believe – that America must discard the worn out Cold War notion that we can buy friends and support with our aid.
The greatness of America lies not in the largess of our purse, but rather the values we represent.
Our aid program in Pakistan ought not to be based on the notion that building schools, clinics or roads will lure people away from extremists. Rather, our aid should be an expression of values. Specifically, we value justice.
· America has a long tradition of promoting social and legal justice. Everything we say, do, and give to Pakistan should be consistent with the American belief that the poor should have the equal protection under the law and in the courts, as do the wealthy.
· We believe the foremost responsibility of government is to protect its citizens. American diplomacy and our assistance should support those in Pakistan who wish to strengthen and professionalize community police, so that the people of Pakistan feel safe in their village and cities.
· As a capitalist nation, Americans believe that any man or woman should be able to work hard and make a good life. Our bilateral aid program in Pakistan should be geared to job creation.
· Finally, it is a fundamental American value that the purpose of government is to protect and provide services to its citizens.
· Educating children, and building effective, accountable government institutions will not occur simply by channeling larges sums of aid through government channels, as is so widely feared in Pakistan.
· Our aid should reinforce the notion that democracy is not an elite parlor game, but a mechanism to meet the needs of the population.
Now the hard part, what can we do to save Pakistan from extremism and break- up?
I have spoken of the trust gap that bedevils our bilateral diplomatic relations and our aid program designed to build trust that backfired.
The aid funds will soon be dispersed, despite public suspicions. But unless we rethink the way we organize the massive program, it will be counterproductive to our building trust and aiding the Pakistani people.
Retooling the American aid program must address three key weaknesses.
First, Pakistanis have exaggerated expectations for the new aid program. $1.5 billion a year may seem like a lot to a Pakistani peasant earning a dollar a day, but it is really only a tear-drop in the ocean measured against the Pakistan’s development needs.
Regrettably, many Pakistanis expect the American aid program to address all social sector shortfalls. Bitter public disappointment seems inevitable.
Second, our approach in Pakistan, and elsewhere, has not essentially changed since the Cold War strategies of transactional aid programs when we strived to one-up the Soviets with our largess.
We are stuck on the erroneous notion that building schools will gain us pro-American sentiments. Without deeper understanding of social and cultural conditions, aid projects are unlikely to produce a change of people’s attitudes.
Finally, the current “made in America” methodology for designing, implementing and monitoring our aid projects strikes many in Pakistan as too US-centric, not to mention, overbearing and biased toward elites.
I would like to suggest that the novel approach President Obama’s Department of Education is pursuing with Race to the Top offers a useful model for dispersing the Kerry Lugar funds.
Secretary Duncan is dangling $4.3 billion in stimulus funds to any state, school district, or local community in a competition for innovative ideas to meet program goals. Our substantial aid program offers an opportunity to challenge Pakistanis to design programs that achieve values both US and Pakistan hold dear.
No foreign aid program can substitute for a national reform consensus, but it can help under-gird one. Both our peoples value the rule of law, community safety, equitable quality education, and free market systems that provides job opportunities. We should not presume to tell Pakistan how to achieve these goals, but rather encourage those who are committed to them with incentives, and not conditions.
The first step to a reorganized aid program would be to conduct a nation-wide communication campaign to engage the Pakistani public in a discussion of the goals of the Kerry Lugar aid program, its limitations, and requirements for community consensus and public investment to assure success.
A second step is to open the process to new implementation partners by casting a wide net for proposals. We want to open the process to any group with good ideas capable of delivering results that go beyond the traditional federal ministries and larger NGOs. A board of Pakistani and US experts would evaluate submissions. Projects would be selected on the basis of likely success of stated objective.
Importantly, involving the people of Pakistan in the aid program would achieve outcomes that directly fulfill the original intention of the Kerry Lugar Bill.
· It would identify new leaders by opening up the process beyond the current tight circle of educated and landed elites.
· By allowing Pakistanis who know their situation and culture better than we do to participate in the process would encourage innovative and culturally appropriate solutions.
· A more open process would assure community buy-in.
· And finally, it would stand a better chance of achieving the original intention of the Kerry Lugar Bill of engendering greater trust by involving the people in a process that is so important to their well being.
· This approach is based on the crazy assumption that building trust begins with the act of trusting the Pakistani public enough to allow them to design and implement a program in their own interests.
About this Transcript:
Assertions and opinions in this Transcript are solely those of the above-mentioned author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Middle East Institute, which expressly does not take positions on Middle East policy.