Saturday, March 20, 2010

Dialogue with America

Editorial -- Express Tribune (coming out soon in the market)

One couldn’t agree more with a retired Pakistani general in his assessment of the current state of ties between Islamabad and Washington, and his observation on perceptions in Afghanistan and Pakistan of this relationship. The general said that whenever something bad happens in Afghanistan Pakistan is immediately blamed, and in particular the ISI and the military while whenever something bad happens in Pakistan, America is blamed. We could add our own two cents to this. Take for example a recent survey in America according to which Pakistan ranks among the lowest in terms of countries with a positive image among Americans. This may be in part due to the image that the American mainstream media portrays to its readers and viewers of Pakistan as being a militant/Taliban-infested state overrun by fundamentalist Muslims all bent on teaching America ‘a lesson’. While reality may not exactly be that it would be fair to say that Pakistan is not exactly a beacon of tolerance and it is a fact that anti-American feeling runs high, even among the more educated and affluent segments of the population. That this is happening at a time when Washington has embarked upon one of its most ambitious Fulbright programmes ever and when Islamabad stands to become one of America’s largest recipients of civilian aid should say something about the perception of US policies by most Pakistanis.
It is in this context that the ministerial-level dialogue this coming week – March 24 to be precise – between America and Pakistan in Washington should be seen. The fact that it is happening at all is a welcome indication of the important that the world’s superpower attaches to its ties with Pakistan. Having said that, the reality is that Pakistan – for obvious reasons – finds itself in a position where it has to constantly prove itself to America that it is a worthwhile ally in the war against terror. The proving part is in large part fuelled by the image portrayed among large swathes of the mainstream western media of the Pakistan military playing a double role in the war on terror, allying with America on the one hand but also providing help in the form of safe havens to the Taliban to carry out attacks on American and western troops in Afghanistan. That Pakistan has so far been unable to get rid of this perception is caused in some part by the fact that in the not-too-distant past it was engaged in such deception and because it was behind the creation of a Taliban government in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s.
The dialogue will focus on security and terrorism issues of course but the two sides are also expected to discuss economic ties and a major component of this is expected to be some kind of assistance to Pakistan to help overcome the ongoing energy crisis which is crippling the economy because of massive loadshedding every day. One hopes that Washington will listen to Pakistan’s concerns, especially those that Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has been expressing of late, i.e. that Islamabad has been doing more than enough and that this needs to be understood and acknowledged. For its part, Pakistan will need to understand that as far as important matters such as fighting militancy and terrorism are concerned, there can be no distinction of those behind such acts – there are no ‘good Taliban’ or ‘bad Taliban’ – and that it needs to match its words with consistent policy actions.

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