Lessons from Kerry-Lugar Discourse

The recent debate over the Kerry-Lugar Bill has once again brought the complexities of Pakistan’s relationship with the United States under the microscope. While it may have thrown up some challenges, it also presents an opportunity to US policy makers to do some soul searching and review some of their strategies.

By Javed Malik

Published: Sun 25 Oct 2009, 9:19 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 1:20 AM

I say this because I have no doubt that the intentions of Senator Biden (now US vice president) and Senator Lugar, who originally initiated this bill was actually to “improve” this relationship and transform it into a “positive partnership” aimed at winning the “hearts and minds” of the Pakistani people. I quote Senator Lugar’s words: “The purpose and intent of this legislation (Kerry Lugar Bill) is to “help transform the relationship between the US and Pakistan from a transactional, tactically-driven set of short-term exercises in crisis-management, into a deeper, broader, long-term strategic engagement.” But instead of achieving this goal, a poor choice of words by some US policy makers in certain parts of the Kerry Lugar Bill has had exactly the opposite effect.

Some clauses seen as clearly “intrusive” and “unacceptable” were perceived to have an implicit design to micro-manage Pakistan. This provoked negative reactions from all segments of society including the media, the academics, political parties, and even the armed forces. This is a typical example bad public diplomacy by US policy-makers. If their goal was to ‘win hearts and minds’ of the Pakistani people they are certainly not going about it the right way.

Having said that, in order to truly understand this negative reaction one has to go beyond the Kerry Lugar bill. In my view this backlash was also a manifestation of the growing frustration over some US Policies which are viewed as one-sided and sometimes marred with double standards. The perception that US sometimes micro-manages Pakistan’s internal affairs, by supporting dictatorships and unpopular governments, or indeed facilitating deals between its political players also adds to this frustration. Topping the list, however, are the ongoing drone attacks inside Pakistan’s territory, which are a legacy of the Bush era. This not only frustrates public opinion, but also raises the question of US double standards. People ask “Can the United States really be our friend when its drones are attacking us and violating our country’s sovereignty?” After 9/11 Pakistan stood by the US as its front line ally in the war against terror, but despite a host of host of challenges Pakistan has remained a steadfast friend.

Can the same be said about the US? Take the example of the Indo-Pakistan war in 1971 when their country was sliced into two parts, but despite a mutual defense agreement the US did not come to their support. It frustrates them to remember that this resulted in break up of their country in two parts. It also frustrates them to remember how Washington had turned its back on them when it walked out of the region after achieving its own objectives in the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s. Pakistan was left alone to deal with the debris of war, over two million Afghan refugees, and a large number of the so called ‘’freedom fighters,’’ that have held the region hostage ever since.

So, if the US truly wants to “positively transform” its relationship with Pakistan and win the hearts of its people, which was the real goal of the Kerry Lugar Bill, then some soul searching is required. Meaningful and positive steps to build confidence are needed by the US. Prime Minister Gillani also spoke about “confidence building measures” during his recent meeting with Senator John Kerry.

One such meaningful step could be an immediate cessation of drone attacks inside Pakistan as they impinge on Pakistan’s sovereignty. Another could be defusing the impression that US is meddling with Pakistan’s internal political affairs, striking deals or patronising some political players. Pakistanis want a progressive and democratic country where the Media is free, the Judiciary is independent and the Parliament is supreme. The US needs to demonstrate they would not interfere in this process. Visible steps to show appreciation and recognition for Pakistan’s crucial role as a front line ally is also needed. Challenges facing Pakistan such as poverty, illiteracy, provision of healthcare, and lack of opportunity need to be addressed by supporting the social sector. Policy-makers in Washington have usually relied on building relations with governments and not really bothered with developing people to people contacts. This needs to change.

President Obama’s election to the White House under the slogan of ‘Change’ had given hope to people in Pakistan that it will also “change” the dimension of their relations. Hillary Clinton has also echoed this hope. US policy makers need to ensure that this hope does not fade. Let me assure them that everyone in Pakistan want good, positive and healthy relations with the US, but as someone once said, they want ‘Friends not Masters’.

Javed Malik is a corporate lawyer, television journalist & director of The World Forum. Write to him at: JavedMalik78@yahoo.com

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